Changed patterns of cortisol levels have been observed in connection with abnormal ACTH levels, clinical depression, psychological stress, physiological stressors such as hypoglycaemia, illness, fever, trauma, surgery, fear, pain, physical exertion or extremes of temperature.
The effects of having too much cortisol in the body can include rapid weight gain, immune suppression, thyroid dysfunction, ageing, glucose irregulation, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, and severe mood swings that manifest in anxiety and depression.
For longer term stressors like work stress or illness, we see a consistently higher level of cortisol at all times of the day.
Increased cortisol production can lead to cortisol-induced immune suppression, hyperglycaemia, insulin resistance, central obesity, hypertension, memory impairment, hyperlipidaemia, and altered thyroid function.
On the other hand, individuals who possess an extremely low amount of cortisol are susceptible to experiencing problems such as dizziness, fatigue, weight loss and a peculiar darkening in certain skin areas, chronic fatigue, menstrual problems, allergies and arthritis.
Chronic stress will raise your cortisol levels for a while, but eventually your body is unable to continue producing cortisol in such high amounts. At this point we start to see declines in cortisol (including low diurnal variation) and diurnal cortisol rhythm disruption resulting in late evening spikes that cause insomnia. This dysregulation of hormone production is the ‘burnout’ that follows long periods of stress. The body is no longer able to regulate cortisol levels effectively, which leads to symptoms like fatigue, a lack of enthusiasm, insomnia, and a general lack of vitality.
– Caffeine may increase cortisol levels
– Sleep deprivation increases cortisol levels
– Prolonged physical exercise stimulate cortisol
– Low estrogen and melatonin supplementation increases cortisol levels in postmenopausal women
– Burnout is associated with higher cortisol levels
– Anorexia nervosa increases cortisol levels
– Oral contraceptives can increase cortisol levels in young women