Cortisol Stress Hormone: High, Low Cortisol Levels Symptoms, Effects

Cortisol is a hormone produced by your adrenal gland. It’s known as the stress hormone because it helps your body respond to stress.

Normally, your cortisol levels will fluctuate throughout the day. Generally, your stress hormone levels are highest when you first get up and lowest when you go to bed.

Cortisol is in the glucocorticoids class of hormones, which have a very broad range of affects on your body. Some of cortisol’s effects are to help:

  • maintain arousal & sense of well-being
  • maintain blood pressure & heart function
  • slow immune system’s inflammation response
  • regulate protein, carbohydrate & fat metabolism
  • balance the effects of insulin for maintenance of blood glucose

As with other hormones, cortisol stress hormone is regulated by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.

If your cortisol levels are high, than it may indicate you have an adrenal tumor or Cushing’s syndrome. The effects of higher than normal level of cortisol may cause you symptoms like:

Cortisol levels can also be high because of hyperthyroidism or obesity. And your stress hormone levels can temporarily elevate due to pregnancy, physical exhaustion, emotional stress or when you’re sick.

Lower than normal cortisol levels, aka adrenal insufficiency, may indicate Addison’s disease or hypopituitarism. And the effects may cause symptoms of:

Hypothyroidism and taking corticosteroids can have the effect of lowering cortisol levels too.

Laboratory produced cortisol is referred to as hydrocortisone.