Thursday, February 10, 2011

Toxic Effects of High Cortisol

by Glen Depke

Aging Process

Excessive production of Cortisol accelerates the Aging Process in the Skin.

Cardiovascular System

Excessive production/release of Cortisol can cause Hypertension.

Immune System

Excessive production/release of Cortisol weakens various aspects of the Immune System:

- Excessive production/release of Cortisol inhibits the body's production of Antibodies.

- Excessive production/release of Cortisol reduces the number of circulating Lymphocytes.

Excessive levels of Cortisol can cause Fatigue.

Cortisol breaks down Proteins into Amino Acids and converts them to Glycogen in the Liver.

Excessive production of Cortisol can cause Insulin Resistance.

Excessive levels of Cortisol can cause Lethargy.

Excessive levels of Cortisol contribute to the development of Obesity.

Musculoskeletal System
Supraphysiologic quantities of Cortisol decreases the endogenous synthesis of Protein in the Muscles and causes the breakdown (catabolism) of Muscle tissue, thereby inhibiting Muscle Growth.

Excessive production of Cortisol can cause Muscle Injury, Muscle Pain and Muscle Weakness (due to reduced repair of Muscles caused by Cortisol).

Excessive production of Cortisol can cause Osteoporosis (by accelerating bone loss and by inhibiting the repair of Bone).

Nervous System
Excessive Cortisol levels increases the rate of Neuron death in Alzheimer's Disease patients.

Excessive production of Cortisol is an underlying cause of Cushing’s Syndrome.

Excessive production of Cortisol may cause (initially) Euphoria but this is generally followed by subsequent Depression:
- Many Major Depression patients are found to have elevated (>0.594 ng/ml of saliva) evening Cortisol levels.

Excessive production of Cortisol damages the Hippocampus.

Prolonged exposure to excessive levels of Cortisol interferes with the ability of the Hypothalamus respond to the negative feedback mechanism that permits it to reduce its secretion of Cortisol in response to higher than normal circulating Cortisol levels. This loss of sensitivity in the Hypothalamus is known as Hyperadaptosis.

Excessive Cortisol damages the structure of and interferes with the functions of several regions of the Brain associated with Memory.

Excessive Cortisol can cause the acceleration of the death of Neurons.

Elevated night-time Cortisol levels interrupt entry into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep (excessive Cortisol can therefore impair the quality of Sleep).
Excessive Cortisol levels are implicated in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) (SAD patients generally exhibit elevated Cortisol levels).

Cortisol is produced and released within the body in response to Stress.

Sexual System
Excessive Cortisol production has been linked to an increased risk for Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS).

Excessive Cortisol levels inhibit the regeneration and repair of the Skin and excessive Cortisol accelerates the Aging Process in the Skin.

Excessive Cortisol impairs the healing of Wounds and can result in excessive Scarring following Wounds.

Water/Water Balance
Excessive Cortisol levels can cause Edema.

Cortisol (Undesirably) Enhances these Substances

Cortisol stimulates the production of Tryptophan Pyrrolase.

Cortisol Interferes with these Substances
Amino Acids
Cortisol decreases the body’s Glutamine levels:
- Cortisol increases the quantity of Glutamine that is “leached” from Muscle Fibers during and following Intensive Exercise.

Cortisol stimulates the destruction of Tryptophan (via the Tryptophan Pyrrolase enzyme).

Elevated Cortisol levels inhibit the production of Testosterone.

Elevated Cortisol levels inhibit the release of Human Growth Hormone (hGH).

Immune System Chemicals
Cortisol inhibits the production of Interleukin 1 (however this aspect of Cortisol is desirable when Interleukin 1 is produced in excessive amounts).

Cortisol inhibits the production of Tumor Necrosis Factor- (this is desirable in some situations and undesirable in other situations).

Cortisol decreases the synthesis of Endogenous Proteins.

For a complimentary 20 minute phone session to understand adrenal function, cortisol production and more importantly, what you can do to balance this call (949)954-6226.

Glen Depke, Traditional Naturopath


  1. Hi Glen,

    What types of challenges might there be with not having enough cortisol production on a daily basis?


  2. Good Question Diane!

    While it is obvious by the post above that we do not want too high of cortisol we do not want it too low either.

    When our cortisol is too low this can effect the areas listed below.

    Thyroid, pancreas, ovaries, metabolism of fat and protein, our mucosal tissue lining, detoxification factors, immune function, pro or anti-inflammatory states, cellular energy, blood sugar balance, muscular/skeletal health, quality of sleep or mood, memory and learning or neural connectivity.

    With this said, it is obviously important for all of us to balance cortisol levels.

  3. Thank you, Glen. As I reread your post I have another question. Previously having excessive cortisol levels and now deficient cortisol levels, will my hypothalamus be able to regain the sensitivity it needs to reverse Hyperadaptosis?

  4. Hello Diane,

    Basically the Hyperadaptosis is another name for adrenal exhaustion and to bring this back in to balance it is important to address all fundamentals of health, a proper adrenal protocol, supplements such as pantothenic acid, vitamin C and omega 3s. All this while keeping the heart rate low and stress to a minimum is the key. I understand that stress is a part of all of our lives, but adapting the ability to work through it in a healthy way is so powerful.

  5. Thanks Glen...just a little impatient I guess.


  6. In fairness to you Diane...we all want to be well ASAP.

  7. Hi there!

    I started body building about 6 motnhs ago, my trainer became concerned about my progress so we had some blood tests done. It was discovered that my testosterone levels were 1/8 to that of a normal person my age. I also have an extremly high level of cortisol. I have had CT scans on my adrenal glands, as well as my pituritury as well as testicles. everythig came back normal and without tumours, growths or legions. So now I am wondering what is next? What else could be causing such extreme cortisol levels and such extremly low testosterone levels in me? cheers for any answer! Ash.

    1. Sorry that so much time has gone by without and answer. Hopefully this has been addressed.

      I will share though that there is an obvious adrenal issue to be addressed. I recommend saliva testing rather than blood.

      I would also add that very often when testosterone is low, this is due to a conversion of testosterone into estrogens which obviously creates imbalances you are not looking for.

  8. You might have Cushing's Disease, which causes excess Cortisol production and other problems. There are two tests that can tell you definitively. Ask your Dr. asap because it can be (and needs to be) controlled.

  9. Hi,

    I was wondering if you have any knowledge regarding adhd medication (stimulants) on cortisol production. I'm concerned that I am putting myself in a state in which my cortisol levels are always amped up. Thanks in advance!

    1. All of the regularly used drugs for ADHD have the potential to create some negative effects for adrenal function. Getting to the core of what leads to the symptoms of ADHD is the direction I would recommend.

  10. I am being followed by an endocrinologist for high cortisol levels for the last 2 years, increasing lately. He wants to say Cushings, but I don't have any of the classic visible symptoms. The symptoms I do have, are red patches on my face, and abnormally intense muscle pain after workouts. I am very fit and play soccer, but lately even the easiest workout causes terrible muslce pain. I am in the midst of another round of testing, including a two day Dexamethason Suppression test. Next step is salivary cortisol test, and midnight cortisol test, and maybe referrel to a Cushings specialist. He said that he heard of one case of Cushings where the patient was a trainer and very fit, so he didn't exhibit the classic signs. I'm exhausted most of the time, and not gaining muscle like I have in the past, and the extreme muscle soreness is affecting my workouts.

  11. Hello,

    This would be a situation that can likely be addressed and balanced. It would be unfair for you to address this via a blog though. I would welcome you to call my office at (949)954-6226 to set up a complimentary 20 minute phone consultation so I can explain how we would address this here at Depke Wellness. Looking forward to talking to you soon.

    When you call, you will likely talk to Jill or Ali.


  12. Hello Glen,

    I recently did a saliva hormone test that reveled that I have extremely high cortisol levels after 10pm and before 6am so basically all night. After 10pm my level was 9.33 and it said that the normal range is 0.1-0.8. Before 6am my level was 12.97 and the normal range is 1.8-3.8. Noon and evening levels were in range. Also my progesterone level was less than 1 where the normal range is 80-270. I was just wondering what could be causing the increased cortisol at night? Is there any causes other than cushings or a tumor?

    Thank you so much for your help,


    1. Hi Michelle,

      The most common causes of adrenal challenges are stress, food intolerance, processed foods, chronic infection and chronic inflammation. When we are working with clients, we address the adrenals as well as the causes of this imbalance. Working on these together and allowing your body to balance is the key.