Endocrine System

What are the side effects of excessive cortisol?

A Answers (3)

  • Too much cortisol, known as Cushing’s syndrome, can have unwanted side effects in the form of obesity, diabetes, muscle weakness and breakdown, change in distribution of fat in the body (skinny arms and legs, big belly), thin skin, striae (purple lines on the abdomen similar to stretch marks), and brittle bones leading to osteoporosis and fractures. Depression, memory problems, and cataracts can also result from excess cortisol. Growth and puberty can be interrupted in children. Females can have difficulty getting pregnant. People with too much cortisol are also at increased risk for infection and may not heal wounds well.

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  • AJames Lee, MD, Endocrinology/diabetes/metabolism, answered on behalf of Columbia University Department of Surgery

    Cortisol is a steriod hormone produced by the adrenal gland that controls the blood sugar levels, aids in metabolism and suppresses the immune system when necessary. Excessive levels of cortisol in the body can destroy good bacteria in the body.

  • AMichael T. Murray, ND, Naturopathic Medicine, answered

    Elevated cortisol levels are associated with increased appetite, cravings for sugar, and weight gain. To appreciate the full effect of excessive cortisol secretion on our physiology, let's take a look at the well-known side effects of a drug form of cortisol, prednisone. Used primarily in allergic and inflammatory conditions like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, prednisone d is by far the most often prescribed oral corticosteroid. It blocks many key steps in the allergic and inflammatory response, including the production and secretion of compounds that promote inflammation by white blood cells. This disruption of the normal defense functions of the white blood cells is great at stopping the inflammatory response, but it essentially cripples the immune system. Long-term use of prednisone also causes abdominal obesity, puffiness of the face ("moon face"), and accumulation of fat in the upper back ("buffalo hump").

    The side effects of prednisone relate to dosage levels and length of time on the drug. Most of the side effects are not due to taking too much of the drug for a short period of time, but rather are due to long-term use, even at lower dosages. At lower doses (less than 10 mg per day) the most notable side effects are usually increased appetite, weight gain, retention of salt and water, and increased susceptibility to infection.

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