The Real Link Between Cortisol and Depression


Cortisol and depression have been linked by a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(1). This connection has raised hopes that depression will soon be able to be predicted similar to the way heart disease can be predicted by the presence of certain biomarkers. Is cortisol a biomarker for depression? If so, does this mean that high levels of cortisol should be an indication for depression treatment or counseling? What is the real link between cortisol and depression?

Limitations of the Cortisol and Depression Link

This study was reported in several media outlets, including BBC News HealthCBS News and the Huffington Post. Despite the wide media coverage, it is far too early to determine what this apparent connection actually means.

This study also demonstrated several significant limitations. The link between high cortisol levels and depressive mood was only useful for prediction in teenage boys. However, depression is far more common in females. The researchers also noted that there are many factors involved with depression such as life events, genetic factors, side effects of medication and diet(2). Further, this study does not clearly indicate that elevating cortisol, linked with depressive moods, is sufficient evidence to treat depression.

Another Medical Catastrophe?

Unfortunately, looking for a biomarker for depression will very likely cause a medical catastrophe similar to that caused by statin drugs. Once cholesterol was identified as a biomarker for heart disease, it was aggressively treated with statin drugs. While this helped lower cholesterol for many people, statin drugs did not lower the risk of death from heart attack and stroke.

In fact, in some groups of people the risk of death has increased with statin drugs. Many other groups of people have suffered tremendously as a result of statin drug treatment. Statin drug effects can be devastating and include muscle problems, polyneuropathy (nerve damage in the hands and feet), rhabdomyolysis (a serious degenerative muscle tissue condition), anemia, acidosis, sexual dysfunction, cataracts, pancreas of liver dysfunction, and increased cancer risk (5).

Yet, satin drugs remain one of the most widely prescribed classes of pharmaceuticals because of this apparent biomarker link that was firmly established. Read Heart Disease and the Cholesterol Myth for a better understanding the real cause of heart disease and how to treat it naturally.

The Real Cortisol and Depression Connection

What raises cortisol levels? Cortisol levels naturally increase in response to stress. The stress may be emotional or chemical. Chemical stress due to toxicity from environmental issues, processed foods, MSG, and personal care products is often overlooked. Excess sugar or simple carbohydrate consumption raises cortisol. Improper metabolism, diabetes, elevated blood sugar, and increased body weight/obesity also raise cortisol levels.

What causes depression? There are many factors that lead to depression. However, stress – emotional and chemical stress –  has been strongly linked to depression risk. Diets high in sugar, refined and processed foods and low in phytonutrients have been linked to depression. Toxicity, medication effects, weight gain, and obesity are causative factors for depression as well.

All of these risk factors stem from lifestyle activities. It is clear that the same lifestyle activities elevate both cortisol levels and the risk of depression. Therefore, the REAL link between cortisol and depression is your LIFESTYLE! The daily lifestyle decisions you make over time cause the elevation of your cortisol levels, as well as, increase your risk of depression.

The Wellness Cure for Cortisol AND Depression

The good news is that modifying your lifestyle will address both issues. Making different decisions on a day to day basis will shift the metabolism of your body to stop producing cortisol and start burning fat. These same simple lifestyle activities will dramatically elevate your mood – regardless of age or gender.

1. Exercise – By far, the most effective way to reverse cortisol production and depression is exercise. More specifically, high intensity exercise such as burst training or high intensity interval training.

2. Nutrition – Just as important and effective is the quality of your nutrition. The typical American diet is a recipe for obesity, diabetes and depression. It is full or refined and processed foods, sugar and simple carbs and lacks any real, restorative nutrition. A diet high in phytonutrients (plant-based foods) and antioxidants and low in refined carbohydrates reverses your body’s cortisol production, energizes your body and elevates your mood.

3. Sunshine – Time outdoors does wonders for lifting your mood. One reason for this is that your body produces Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Sufficient levels of Vitamin D help to balance inflammation – an important factor in reducing cortisol. Maintaining proper Vitamin D levels is also associated with alleviation of depression.

4. Establish a Wellness Mindset – Your mindset – the thoughts you think and the way you view life – has an immense impact on your level of physical and emotional well being. Mastering the techniques of developing a wellness mindset is an important skill to your overall health.

5. Chiropractic Care and your Nerve System – Your nervous system controls every function of your body. Chiropractic care serves to optimize the function of your nervous system. There have been many case studies demonstrating the positive effects of chiropractic care on depression. Further chiropractic care can help stabilize your hormone function which is key to reducing cortisol levels.

There are many causes of depression as well as elevated cortisol levels. It is clear that the vast majority of those causes are lifestyle related. That means that they are well within your control! You do not have to depend of medication or be shackled to a diagnosis. You can be well! The link between cortisol and depression is your lifestyle. Change your lifestyle today and you will produce a future life of radiant physical health and physical well being.

References for this Article:

(1) Elevated morning cortisol is a stratified population-level biomarker for major depression in boys only with high depressive symptoms

(2) Test ‘predicts’ teen depression risk

(3) Saliva test may predict depression risk in boys

(4) Saliva Test Could Predict Which Teen Boys Will Develop Depression

(5) Do You Take Any of These 11 Dangerous Statins or Cholesterol Drugs?

Dr. Brent Hunter
My mission is to help you Achieve Wellness! I am a Chiropractic physician with a focus on delivering the principles of a wellness lifestyle to people of all ages. In my practice, this is accomplished through providing specific chiropractic care and whole-person wellness education.

Additionally, I am a husband and father of a Deaf son. I am passionate about the Word of God, building strong families, Chiropractic Health Care, Optimal Nutrition and Exercise, Deaf Culture and American Sign Language.