Cortisol – the Death Hormone

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Cortisol is the one hormone that actually increases as we get older.  We are all familiar with cortisol, because a derivative called cortisone is used in topical and systemic medications and has been part of the pharmacological arsenal for years.  Cortisol is essential; it enables our internal systems to maintain stability and stay in balance during acute forms of stress, such as fear, physical trauma, and extreme physical exertion.  When it is needed during periods of stress, cortisol is produced by the body in the quantities necessary to combat stress.  However, a problem arises when cortisol is present for long periods of time and in excess quantities.  When we measure the cortisol levels of a young person under stress, they rise rapidly, but within a few hours as the stress is relieved, they decline to normal.  However, when we measure cortisol levels in older people, the levels rise rapidly during the stress but tend not to return to normal for days.  Since cortisol levels continue to increase with age, a sixty-five year old has far higher levels of cortisol circulating throughout their system than does a twenty-five year old.

Large amounts of cortisol are toxic when they circulate in our system for prolonged periods of time.  Our brain cells, or neurons, are extremely sensitive to the effects of cortisol.  When cortisol is circulating at a high level, it causes the brain cells to die.  That is why brain shrinkage is associated with senility in old age.

Excessive amounts of cortisol can destroy the immune system, shrink the brain and other vital organs, decrease muscle mass, and cause thinning of the skin which results in prominent blood vessels.  In the anti-aging field, cortisol is known as the death hormone because it is associated with old age and disease.  So, how can you keep your cortisol under control?

  • Get good adequate sleep-six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
  • Minimize stress-whenever possible, avoid stress-inducing situations.
  • Cut out coffee!  Coffee contains a number of organic acids that affect blood sugar and cortisol levels.  This is not due to the caffeine.  For example, you can drink a cup of decaffeinated coffee at 8am and your cortisol levels will still be measurable at 10pm-the same as if you had drunk regular coffee.

20 thoughts on “Cortisol – the Death Hormone

  1. So, could you explain a bit more on this coffee and cortisol?? Should we NOT be drinking it when under stress? And what can you do to minimize the heavy amounts of cortisol in your bloodstream when under days of stress???

  2. Hello…..oh boy there goes my coffee,this was a very informative article.I will be 61 years old in April.All my life I was tought to take very good care of my Skin.But ever since a Child I had very very very dry Skin,and as I am getting older,it is getting worse.I am putting on three Moisturizers on my Skin in the morning,and the same at night.Also,I feel I am using a good Skin Care System,it is called BIOELEMENTS.Can you recommend a Regement
    from your Line,that would do well for my Skin.
    I am German so if I made any mistakes writing this to you,I appoligize.
    Thank you EDEET

    • Take omega 3 oil supplements 1 at morning – noon – night
      Take vitamin c – 1500mg per day
      Take b100 – 1 in the morning

      and drink lots of water
      your skin will thank you

  3. I take hydrocortisone daily due to hypopituitarism and hypoadrenalism. I know I will die without taking this medication, and frequently need a dose higher than my doctor would like to see me on. The only other choice of not increasing the dose when needed is to become chair or bedridden due to the fatique, so I don’t see much of an option. I know Addison’s disease patients who daily steroids needs vary widely-some get by on HC 10 mg a day, others need 35, and yet others need 10 mg/day of prednisone. If it is physicologic replacement, why the varying doses-and really, what other choices do we have?

  4. An excellent article – thank you! So, besides adequate sleep, reducing stress, and no coffee, what else can we do to reduce cortisol levels? Is there any type of agent that will counter these levels, such as minerals or vitamins? (I am thinking StressTabs.) Also, isn’t cortisol the hormone that increases belly fat and expansion as we age? Another question: Is cortisol associated with high cholesterol levels? I appreciate any input you could give me on my queries.

  5. Cortisol becomes detrimental when there is chronic and continuous elevation of it.
    Cortisol is a life-sustaining hormone. It is needed for a healthy blood pressure, blood sugar, to fight inflammation. It is needed for a healthy function of both receptors of thyroid hormones and catecholamines and for cardiovascular toning.
    Low cortisol is more detrimental than elevated cortisol.
    Chronic hypocortisolemia, a condition known as Addison, disease was fatal before this hormone was discovered.
    It is human abuse and neglect, eating junk food, bad sleeping, high stress level, pollution, and modern life style that made cortisol look bad.
    Humans have abused their hormones by their own actions.
    It is human actions, abuses, and neglects that lead to death! We cannot live without cortisol, not for a single day.

  6. High production of cortisol certainly has detrimental effects upon the body.

    Yet low levels have their consequences as well. An excellent book on adrenal deficiency written by Dr. William Jefferies, M.D., called The Safe Uses of Cortisol, is an excellent read for both physicians and the public.

    There is a place for increasing cortisol levels through lifestyle changes and nutrition, and even the use of small doses of this very important hormone.

    Thanks for the article.
    Dr. Alexander Haskell

    • Hi Marcella. Opt for regular green tea over green tea flavored beverages as they contain little to none of the health benefits of green tea.

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  8. Considering this article does not specify where the information was taken from i.e. research papers. This is speculation at best. The research on this is okay, and needs more for verification

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  13. I recently was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata, and know that it’s caused by an inflammation in my body. I am yet to see a functional medicine practitioner, and through my own research found that gluten could be one cause. So I cut that out. I feel great, but that doesn’t seem to be the cause.
    A lot of people jump straight to the conclusion that I must be really stressed, and that’s why the hair is falling out.
    I’ve been taking a close look at what my diet has been like for the last year, and there’s been way too much coffee. And since that suppresses hunger, I could go a day with only one meal. Even though I’m not going through anything stressful in my life, could it be that the excess amounts of coffee have spiked my cortisol levels to the point where the alopecia areata got triggered?

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