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Can Cortisol Levels Lead to Metabolic Syndrome?

cortisol leads to metabolic syndrome
  • High cortisol levels can lead to metabolic syndrome.
  • Cortisol is known as the ‘stress hormone’.
  • Cortisol is linked with higher risk for developing components of metabolic syndrome.
  • Metabolic syndrome is a collection of symptoms that increase risk of several chronic health conditions.
  • You can manage your cortisol levels by following a healthy lifestyle.

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of conditions that together raise a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other chronic health issues.  

The five components of metabolic syndrome are: high blood pressure; insulin resistance; low HDL (good) cholesterol; high triglycerides; and being overweight around your middle (abdominal obesity). A person is diagnosed as having metabolic syndrome when they have three or more of these components.

Why is cortisol important?

Known as the ‘stress hormone’, cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone produced by the adrenal (suprarenal) glands, part of the body’s endocrine system. 

For optimal levels of cortisol your hypothalamus, pituitary gland and adrenal glands must all work together.

Cortisol gets its ‘stress hormone’ reputation for its role in regulating our body’s stress response. What many of us don’t realise is the part cortisol plays in maintaining functions in nearly every organ in the body. 

Cortisol balance is essential for our body’s healthy functioning. When released into the bloodstream cortisol acts on different parts of body and helps:

·       stimulate fat and carbohydrate metabolism and regulate metabolism of glucose

·       control blood pressure

·       manage immune system functions

·       reduce inflammation

·       control the body’s response to stress or danger.

Cortisol release is also linked with our circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycles). Normal blood cortisol levels follow a diurnal rhythm; cortisol levels fluctuate during the day and in a diurnal rhythm are typically higher when we wake up and lower before we go to sleep.

Cortisol is associated with components of metabolic syndrome

Studies show that there is a relationship between increased risk of metabolic imbalance and related health issues, and elevated levels of cortisol: 

·       Cortisol triggers the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Consistently high cortisol levels can lead to high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) which in turn can lead to type 2 diabetes.

·       Raised levels of cortisol in the body can cause hypertension (high blood pressure) and an increase in LDL (bad cholesterol), both risk factors in cardiovascular disease.

·       Cortisol regulates appetite and cravings and there is a direct relationship between abdominal weight gain and high cortisol levels. 

Other disorders are related to the adrenal glands not functioning properly including Cushing syndrome, Addison’s disease, Congenital adrenal hyperplasia and Conn’s syndrome

How can you manage your cortisol levels?

Persistent high levels of cortisol, caused by constant stress and negative lifestyle factors, can be harmful to our health and in some cases can lead to metabolic syndrome. 

You can take steps to manage your stress levels by following a healthy lifestyle – getting sufficient sleep, regular exercise and eating a diet high in whole and plant foods. 

In some cases, your doctor may decide to prescribe synthetic corticosteroids such as prednisone, hydrocortisone or dexamethasone to help manage your cortisol levels. 


If you are concerned you may have issues with your metabolism, get tested in the privacy of your own home by ordering a blood test here.

Nabta is reshaping women’s healthcare. We support women with their personal health journeys, from everyday wellbeing to the uniquely female experiences of fertility, pregnancy, and menopause. You can track your menstrual cycle and get personalised support by using the Nabta app.

Get in touch if you have any questions about this article or any aspect of women’s health. We’re here for you.

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