Cortisol and Depression

Cortisol activates in a brain region called the locus coeruleus, which sends norepinephrine to communicate back to the amygdala, and so responsible for the stress response all over again and resulting in a destructive feedback cycle continuously. Depression is often associated with hypercortisolemia as the high levels of cortisol influence the distribution of various types of leukocytes in the blood stream.

How cortisol can cause depression

Cortisol and depression The hormone released during long-term stress are responsible for the depression but after years of circumstantial evidence, it is found that cortisol also causes mood disorders for some people. Researchers knew that people with depression have high levels of cortisol but it not clear whether this was a cause or an effect of the problem or not exactly. Another research showed that cortisol can help people with phobias, and may be linked with very early-stage pregnancy loss thus can cause depression in women during and after pregnancy.


Cortisol is a hormone secretes from the adrenal glands. These adrenal glands are located near the kidneys. Adrenal glands assist us in our reactions to stressful events. It is believed that the secretion of cortisol hormone is related to clinical depression. It is found that the peple who are clinically depressed, about half of them have the excess of cortisol hormone. And usually the high levels of cortisol are reducing to a normal level once the depression disappears.

The hypothalamus is responsible for the excessive levels of cortisol in the blood. It is hypothalamus, which starts the process that leads to the secretion of cortisol by the adrenal glands. Hypothalamus first manufactures corticotrophic-releasing hormone (CRH) which stimulates the pituitary gland to release the adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH). The ACTH then makes the adrenal glands to secret the cortisol.

It is the hypothalamus which monitors the level of cortisol in the blood. In a normal person without any depression when the level of cortisol becomes high, the hypothalamus slows down its influence on the pituitary gland in production of CRH. The level of cortisol decreases; the hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary gland to produce more CRH.

If a person is depressed the hypothalamus may continuously influence the pituitary to produce CRH without regard to the amount of cortisol in the blood.

Thye timing of the release of cortisol can cause problem in people who are depressed. In the normal cycling of cortisol, its level is highest at approximately 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m, and lowest during the night. While in a depressed person, they might have a consistent level of cortisol all the time, or highest amounts in the middle of the night.

Cortisol Testing

The level of cortisol can be tested by using a dexamethasone suppression test (DST). It is can be used to confirm a diagnosis of depression. In this test a dose of dexamethasone, a synthetic cortisol is given to the person before going to sleep at night. At next morning the person's blood is tested for checking the level of cortisol at 8:00 a.m. and again at 4:00 p.m. In normal person it is found that the cortisol level is drop first later return to normal level. But the people who are severely depressed, approximately one-half will show the abnormal result. Their cortisol secretion may not be reduced by the hypothalamus, or there may be no change at all after receiving the synthetic cortisol.

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