When we're shocked or surprised by something—a loud noise, a bright light, a jaguar chasing us through the jungle—our bodies are flooded with cortisol in response. This is known as a “cortisol dump.” If you spend the next hour running through the trees to evade a predator, you'll need that cortisol to keep you going.
Too little cortisol may be due to a problem in the pituitary gland or the adrenal gland (Addison's disease). The onset of symptoms is often very gradual. Symptoms may include fatigue, dizziness (especially upon standing), weight loss, muscle weakness, mood changes and the darkening of regions of the skin.
Low levels of cortisol can cause weakness, fatigue, and low blood pressure. You may have more symptoms if you have untreated Addison's disease or damaged adrenal glands due to severe stress, such as from a car accident or an infection. These symptoms include sudden dizziness, vomiting, and even loss of consciousness.
Too much cortisol can cause some of the hallmark signs of Cushing syndrome — a fatty hump between your shoulders, a rounded face, and pink or purple stretch marks on your skin. Cushing syndrome can also result in high blood pressure, bone loss and, on occasion, type 2 diabetes.
Your gastrointestinal system is very sensitive to stress hormones like cortisol. You might experience nausea, heartburn, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, or constipation as a result of too many stress hormones.
“Eating foods such as processed meats, high sugar foods, caffeine and alcohol, which provide little nutritional value, have been associated with more psychiatric symptoms and can increase cortisol levels—our primary hormone responsible for stress,” she said.
Symptoms said to be due to adrenal fatigue include tiredness, trouble falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning, salt and sugar craving, and needing stimulants like caffeine to get through the day. These symptoms are common and non-specific, meaning they can be found in many diseases.
Past the early morning spike, your body's cortisol reserves gradually decline as the day goes on. They hit rock bottom typically around midnight. Two to three hours after you've fallen asleep, your body starts manufacturing cortisol again until its zenith in the early morning. Then, the cycle repeats itself.
The level of cortisol in your blood, urine and saliva normally peaks in the early morning and declines throughout the day, reaching its lowest level around midnight.
For humans, cortisol begins to increase immediately after fasting commenced (Fig. 1C) . Five-day fasting increases cortisol levels and shifts the peak from the morning to the afternoon . Other fasting experiments for 2.5 to 6 days dramatically elevates plasma cortisol levels [80–82].
Symptoms of high cortisol include:
Nervousness. Shakiness. High heart rate. Blood sugar and blood pressure instability.
Caffeine elevates cortisol secretion, and caffeine is often consumed in conjunction with exercise or mental stress.
What is unique about the fatigue associated with cortisol levels? People who have low cortisol often speak of a pattern: They have relatively decent or somewhat better energy level in the morning, and then as the day goes on, they tend to have lower amounts of energy.
Vitamin D supplementation significantly reduced cortisol levels and cortisol:cortisone ratio but had a nonsignificant effect on cortisone.
In a randomized placebo-controlled trail, Brody et al. demonstrated that oral vitamin C attenuated the blood pressure, cortisol, and subjective responses to psychological stress in human volunteers (12).
Stage 2 (Dismay Response)
Our bodies have now been under severe stress and our cortisol levels will continue to elevate while our DHEA levels will decrease. Normal activities can still be carried out, but fatigue hangs wearily on each day more and more. It will take longer to feel recovered or well rested.
#4: Foods You Are Sensitive or Intolerant To
You can develop a food intolerance to any food, especially if you live a high stress life and have elevated cortisol, but most common ones are beef, eggs, casein protein, shellfish, gluten grains, and tree nuts.
Fish oil, and specifically the omega-3 fatty acids contained within it, has been shown to be one of the most effective supplements for reducing cortisol levels.
Reducing stress—which in turn lowers cortisol levels—is often cited as the answer to losing that persistent belly fat, but apple cider vinegar can help too.