5 Signs Your Cortisol Levels Are Too High

Internet searches for cortisol spiked last week, with Google reporting that how to lower cortisol was the fourth most popular search in the past 90 days. While the human body needs some cortisol, the main stress hormone, to regulate our metabolism and blood sugar and maintain a healthy hormonal balance, too much of the result of chronic and prolonged stress can be harmful. If you think you may be suffering from high cortisol exposure, the first step to fixing it is knowing how to recognize the signs.

Here are five symptoms worth paying attention to:

Excess belly fat

If you’re constantly stressed, you may be more likely to overeat or make bad decisions when it comes to what foods to eat. That said, weight gain around the stomach isn’t just indicative of eating poorly, it’s also a direct result of excess cortisol in the system. When the body is under stress, cortisol and adrenaline (another hormone produced as part of the stress response) are released to help prepare the body to cope. This increases the body’s metabolic rate and releases stored glucose, but any glucose that is not used is turned into fat and stored in the abdomen. The reason it builds up quickly is because of the type of stressor threat you face, which is less likely to be physical (like running away from a tiger) and more likely to be psychological (like a tray of input overflowed). Because of this, you’re less likely to burn that glucose, which means most of it goes straight to your belly.

I am disturbed

An out-of-control cortisol curve can wreak havoc on your sleep patterns, so any trouble falling asleep, or finding yourself waking up at night, could be a sign that your cortisol levels are out of control . A healthy cortisol curve is characterized by a high cortisol level in the morning that slowly declines before reaching a low level just before bedtime. A misaligned curve is essentially the opposite: higher-than-desired levels at night, which can lead to waking and restlessness and prevent you from getting enough sleep.

A swollen face

A puffy or overly round face (sometimes called a moon face) occurs when excess cortisol encourages the body to store extra fat on the sides of the face. Excess can also cause the body to retain extra water, which could also explain why your face looks puffier than normal when you’re stressed. In some cases, a puffy face is also a sign of Cushings syndrome, which occurs when the body produces too much cortisol or receives too much from long-term use of drugs such as steroids.

Reduced healing

If you find yourself with cuts, bruises, or aches and pains that just don’t seem to get better, excess cortisol could be to blame. Higher-than-normal levels of the hormone inhibit the production of molecules called cytokines, which are responsible for triggering the body’s healing process and reducing inflammation. Coupled with the inflammation that chronic cortisol exposure causes on its own, it’s no wonder your body is struggling to recover.

Constant swelling

Continually high cortisol forces the body to alter or shut down functions that can prevent a focus on immediate survival, and digestion is often one of the first systems to be affected. As part of its role in regulating various body functions, cortisol is responsible for regulating the absorption of salt and minerals. When stressed, excess cortisol increases salt levels and causes the body to hold on to more water than it needs. Reduced blood flow to the digestive system also interferes with intestinal motility, which creates bacterial imbalances in the gut. The impact on bacterial balance can lead to poor digestion of certain carbohydrates, leading to excess gas. This, combined with the increase in water, causes swelling to occur.

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