Post Script: Having high cortisol can be as bad as low!
Why would someone have high cortisol?
If any of us are under stress, whether emotional, psychological or physical, it’s natural for the body to respond with a greater release of cortisol (and even adrenaline). The ultimate purpose of rising cortisol is to change amino acids into glucose, called gluconeogenesis. That extra glucose helps gives the body the right amount of energy to deal with the stress. Even those who do intense exercise will see their cortisol go up.
With straight hypothyroid or Hashimoto’s patients, cortisol tends to go up when we are undiagnosed or poorly treated with Synthroid or Levo–either causing stress to the body. Hashi’s patients also tend to have inflammation which pushes cortisol up, whether from the attack on the thyroid, or the consumption of gluten. Even non-Hashi’s patients who are poorly treated can see cortisol go up due to inflammation.
Other causes of high cortisol include dosing with too much progesterone cream, reactivated viruses, an unknown chronic illness, Lyme, your current and chronic life stressors, and more–all of which will need to be addressed, besides your hypothyroid state. (By the way, this is different from the disease called Cushings, often caused a tumor causing the excess cortisol. But that’s another thing to look into with your doctor’s help!)
And though rising cortisol has a good purpose, we run into trouble if it stays high too long. High cortisol promotes T4 to convert to more and more RT3 (reverse T3), the inactive hormone. Uncontrolled high cortisol can also lead to weight gain, problems falling asleep or staying asleep, depression from the rise of RT3, fatigue, blood pressure problems, cortisol resistance, and even anxiety, since adrenaline goes up with cortisol.
How will I know if I have high cortisol??
For most of us, it’s never wise to simply guess if you have high cortisol. Symptoms of high and low cortisol can be the same for many. Additionally, you should never assume you have high cortisol because “blood results” show it. Blood is measuring both bound and unbound, which means your blood lab result can look high, when in reality, you could have normal or low cortisol results as accurately revealed by saliva testing. This has been very common!
The best way to know is order and do a 24 hour saliva test, like this one in the US, or other countries shown here. You will test at four key times. When you get your results back, do NOT go by their normal range. Go by this page.
What are other symptoms of high cortisol?
High cortisol can create similar symptoms as having low, such as nausea in the face of stress, adrenaline surges which wire you or keep you awake (insomnia) or make you wake up 1-2 hours after falling asleep, lowered temp, high RT3…you name it. In fact, since high cortisol inhibits conversion of T4 to T3, it’s very common to see increases in your RT3 level. You can see a return of hypothyroid symptoms and a lowered temp. But again, it’s not always wise to be guessing, and instead do a saliva test to know for sure.
Another problem with long-term high cortisol–it leads to low cortisol
There comes a point in anyone’s body that the high cortisol will be forced down to low cortisol…and that is a whole another problem to treat. This is what patients see when they have saliva results which are low, high, low, high…or even low, low, high, high, or low, low, low high…or other manifestations. Often the last high cortisol result to fall is bedtime, but there can be individual variations. It’s just the most common.
The last chapter in the Stop the Thyroid Madness II book by Lena Edwards MD does a bangup job explaining what happens with our cortisol levels.
What does high bedtime cortisol do to me?
High bedtime cortisol can cause disruption of your sleep pattern, resulting in problems falling asleep, or waking up 1-2 hours after falling asleep, or both…which is the very thing you don’t need! High bedtime cortisol can also contribute to low morning cortisol…another bad issue.
How do I treat my high cortisol?
Patients have found help just around the corner at their local health food store or on the internet. The following are examples of over-the-counter products that are taken about an hour before you did the saliva spit for that particular high, So if you are high at 10 pm, these are taken by 9 pm…etc. It may only take a week or more to get a high down if enough of the below is taken. i.e. being able to fall asleep and stay asleep, or less anxiety at any particular high time, or lowering of a high heartrate, etc). You can then decrease the supplement for a few weeks, then get off so you don’t lower it too much! Some people take a combo of the below, but if enough of one is taken, that has worked too!
- Phosphatidyl serine (PS) is a fatty acid found in your immune cells and muscle tissue, as well as being prevalent in your brain cells. And as a supplement, it helps lower cortisol when its high levels are damaging–lowering it from 30% to 70% according to different literature. When you shop for it, you want simple Phosphatidyl Serine rather than Phosphatidyl Complex, the latter which will contain both PS and Phosphatidyl Choline. The “complexes” will often say 500 mg, of which 100 mg is the Phosphatidyl Serine. But the complex can give you a strange spacey feeling in the mornings for some. Recommended doses of PS range from 300 mg to 1000 mg, and you might start around 300 mg and see if you get relief, or raise until you do. If you have all day high cortisol, you can experiment with 300 mg at breakfast, another 300 by lunch, and 300 around supper…or every few hours. Note that many brands are derived from soy…which isn’t a bad thing if you aren’t already consuming it in other ways. But if you have concern, Jarrow Formulas now makes a soy-free version called PS 100, found on many websites. Another potential good alternative is Seriphos by Interplexus which contains 1000 mg PS per capsule. Lots of good reports on its use to lower high cortisol.
- Zinc can also help lower high cortisol levels! (Note it says it will lower “high cortisol”. In the lower amounts, we’re not seeing it lower normal levels to the degree that it lowers “high” cortisol). Recommended dosages range from 25 mg to 100 mg, and the latter has been the most effective at nighttime, say patients. NOTE: It’s important to have food in your stomach when taking zinc to prevent stomach upsets. Some patients will add zinc to their PS dosage. Don’t take zinc forever–it can lower copper levels, and your body needs “some” copper for many important actions. We just use it until cortisol is lowered. Or, add copper to your supplementation, such as 2-4 mg say some experts. (Note: if you have an MTHFR mutation, you may need to check your zinc and copper levels before using zinc. If your copper is high, the addition of zinc will cause detoxing of that high copper and potential misery, say experts)
- Holy Basil, which is a member of the mint family, is an adaptogenic herb which has a proven history of lowering high cortisol. It usually takes more than the bottle says as a serving. This is Janie Bowthorpe’s favorite supplement to lower high bedtime cortisol, or even the morning, if either occur. Two capsules does the trick for Janie, sometimes three.
There are others mentioned in the revised STTM book!
Want to order your own labwork?? STTM has created the right ones just for you to discuss with your doctor. Go here: https://sttm.mymedlab.com/
Need help interpreting your lab results? Go here: www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/lab-values/
(Important note: STTM is an information-only site based on what many patients have reported in their treatment. Please work with your doctor. This is not meant to replace that relationship or guidance, and you agree to that by reading this website. See the Disclaimer.)