Just this past week I got my AM cortisol tested and found out that I have very high cortisol. The symptoms I’m experiencing, like fast heart rate and inability to do any work, are horrible…….so, I have been desperately researching what I can do to decrease the high cortisol. I thought for this post I would share what I found, what I am trying, and the things that are helping me right now, hoping that I can help someone or we could share ideas and find out what works best.
Having high cortisol is a common problem that many people have and some don’t even know that cortisol is the reason for their health problems. Fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and unintentional weight gain or loss are just a few of the symptoms. But, having problems with cortisol can also be much more severe. It can stop you in your tracks, affecting your everyday life!
If you have high cortisol, then you have adrenal fatigue. There are 4 stages of adrenal fatigue, ranging from mild to full on adrenal exhaustion and adrenal crisis. This article has an excellent description of each stage and the symptoms.
The worst part is you can go to the doctors with very visible symptoms and they don’t even think of testing cortisol. This is what happened to me. Over the past 4 months, I went to 6 different doctors, the ER, and finally, just this week, a doctor tested my cortisol. Yet, cortisol issues are treatable and it would be best find out as soon as possible if that is the cause of your symptoms so you can take steps to correct it and feel better.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a hormone made by the adrenal glands which is essential to almost every process in the body and also for maintaining homeostasis. When the body is under stress, it goes into fight or flight response, which activates cells firing and the increase of adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol increases in response to the stress, but after a while it can’t keep up with the extra effort and begins to decrease as the body can’t keep up with the demand.
Typically, higher levels of cortisol are seen in the first few beginning stages of adrenal fatigue and in the later stages of adrenal fatigue, the levels drop lower as the adrenals become more exhausted.
Or you could have a variation of both, having too little cortisol at certain times of the day and too much at other times as cortisol levels drastically change throughout the course of the day. This is what I’m suspecting is going on with mine, but I won’t know for sure until I get the results of my 24 hour cortisol test.
Symptoms of High Cortisol:
- Lack of energy
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Brain fog
- Crave salt and feel better when you eat something with sugar
- Feel worse in the morning, such as stomachache
- Difficulty sleeping
- Decreased immune system and slowed wound healing
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate/palpitations
- Face feels flushed
Symptoms of Low Cortisol:
- Dizzy, faint
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Decreased blood pressure
- Difficulty sleeping
- Anxiety, nervousness
- Increased heart rate/palpitations
- Feel “weird”
You may have just a few or many of the symptoms, depending on the person. Many of the symptoms for high cortisol and low cortisol are the same, so it’s hard to determine which you have without a cortisol test. Based on my symptoms, I was expecting my cortisol to turn out low, but it turned out high. For me, my symptoms currently are: increased heart rate (tachycardia because it’s over 100 bpm), chest pain, dizzy, hungry all the time, sweaty hands and feet, trouble sleeping, fatigue, weight loss (10lbs and can’t gain weight no matter how much I eat), and feeling much worse in the morning and but a little better after lunch.
What Causes High Cortisol?
- Stress- Typically, just removing the stressful thing will not eliminate the high cortisol because your adrenals need to recover. Depending on the severity of adrenal dysfunction it may take several months to up to 18 months to completely recover.
- Injury, illness, or surgery
- Birth control pills, pregnancy
- Liver dysfunction, kidney problems
- Cushing’s Syndrome
- Disorders of the adrenal glands
- Use of corticosteroids
At first, I was thinking my high cortisol was caused by the stress I had from working a stressful job last year. But, the cause of my cortisol is more of an unusual one. My high cortisol is a result of the stress of vitamin A toxicity on my body and liver. It’s been nearly 4 months since I found out I had vitamin A toxicity and stopped taking anything with vitamin A, but since the half-life of vitamin A is said to be about 80 days, it probably won’t be out of my system until sometime in May. I’m hoping that as soon as all the vitamin A is out of my system, the stress and inflammation it caused will be reduced and my cortisol level will improve. To help this along, I’m trying to decrease the cortisol as much as possible with these 15 ways on how to reduce cortisol, so I can feel better until the vitamin A is completely out of my system.
How to Get Your Cortisol Tested:
You’ll want to do an AM cortisol blood test which is done fasting, preferably 20 minutes after waking up because that’s when your cortisol spikes to its highest. Even better than just doing that one test, would be the 24 hour cortisol test because this will give more information on your cortisol levels throughout the day and at night. If you have a good primary/internal medicine doctor they may test it for you this way, otherwise an endocrinologist or naturopath should be willing to do it.
15 Ways to Reduce Cortisol
1. Add a good amount of sea salt to every meal! Sea salt can heal your adrenals. Make sure you only use quality sea salt like this or pink Himalayan salt. This is the most important thing to do decrease high cortisol! High cortisol depletes salt. I felt a difference just after one day of adding it to almost everything I ate.
2. Eat salt, vitamin C, protein, and fat with every meal. This provides the beneficial nutrients of the salt and vitamin C to help the adrenals without spiking blood sugar by having it with fat and protein.
For example, for breakfast I now have eggs with meat and sea salt, an orange, and a tablespoon of coconut oil. I feel a huge difference having this compared to anything else. It’s especially important in the morning because this is when cortisol spikes and I feel really terrible.
3. Magnesium. Many studies have shown magnesium reduces cortisol. I was originally doing Epsom salt foot baths every day to get my magnesium, but I ran out and started doing magnesium flake foot baths and WOW, I saw a huge improvement! I’m not sure why, but these magnesium flakes seem to work much better. Many others have commented on this but I can’t find any research as to why. You have to soak in the magnesium flakes for 1 full hour, whether you do it in a tub or make a foot bath to get the full benefits.
4. Sleep. Try to get at least 8 hours of good sleep. This can be extremely difficult to do with high cortisol because usually cortisol problems make it difficult to sleep. Try to do everything you can to improve sleep. My sleep has been improving since I now do a magnesium foot bath right before bed, wear blue-light blocking glasses, watch a relaxing TV show, and eat something with zinc for dinner (usually pumpkin seeds). Zinc has been shown to decrease cortisol levels.
7. Dancing. Non-strenuous dancing can greatly decrease cortisol levels.
8. Laughing. Having fun and laughing has been found to reduce serum cortisol levels. Try watching a funny tv show or videos on Youtube when feeling stressed.
9. Yoga. Try to do some yoga as this study found those who practiced it had a significant drop in cortisol levels. You can find great relaxing yoga videos to follow on Youtube.
10. Eat every 2 hours to keep your blood sugar stable. Eat smaller meals more frequently. This will prevent spikes in insulin production.
11. Take a vitamin C supplement. Next to increasing your salt intake, the next best way to combat high cortisol is increase your vitamin C. Vitamin C has been shown to significantly decrease cortisol production. The majority of studies that found decreases in cortisol involved taking 1,000 to 1,5000mg of vitamin C a day. In addition to eating oranges, berries, and other citrus fruits, I started taking this natural food based vitamin C supplement. It is better than typical vitamin C supplements because it isn’t synthetic and doesn’t contain GMO’s.
12. Try to relax as much as possible. Take breaks from work as much as possible, practice deep breathing, take a nap or try meditation.
13. Decrease exposure to blue light, particularly 3 hours before bed. When you’re exposed to bright lights, TV, computer, or light from your phone before bed, the blue light and green light they emit significantly suppress your body’s production of melatonin. Adequate levels of melatonin are necessary as they are crucial to the sleep cycle. Disrupting melatonin production can make it difficult to get to sleep and affect the quality of your sleep throughout the night. To keep good melatonin levels, I now turn off all my lights at 8pm, use blue-light blocking glasses, and put this plastic film of rubylith over my TV and computer screen to block the blue-light and green-light. If you don’t mind spending a little more, these blue-light blocking glasses are a lot more comfortable than the inexpensive ones, but both work just as well.
14. Avoid all caffeine, alcohol, stress, negativity and strenuous exercise. Your body needs to rest to recover. All of these have been found to directly increase cortisol. In one study, use of caffeine showed an increase in cortisol by 30% in just one hour, yikes!
15. Herbs and Foods that have been found to decrease cortisol: Wild caught salmon, black tea, ashwaganda, rhodiola, holy basil, chamomile tea, garlic, berries, and oranges. (I haven’t tried all of these yet, but will be adding more into my regimen this week, like the rhodiola and black tea)
How these methods for lowering cortisol are working for me
I’ve noticed a huge improvement from adding sea salt to all my meals in just 2 days. I felt like I had a lot more energy from it. The magnesium flake foot baths have also been helping a lot! I feel an immediate difference after doing it each time.
Have you ever had high cortisol? Do you have any other tips that have helped you reduce cortisol?