How Can My Medicine Affect Cortisol Levels?

How Can My Medicine Affect Cortisol Levels?

Created On
Oct 23 2023
Last Updated
Apr 26 2024


Cortisol is one of the stress hormones produced by adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys. Our health depends on cortisol as it builds stronger immunity, lowers inflammation, and improves metabolism. The very distinct 24-hour cycle, in which levels peak soon after waking up is a hallmark of cortisol.

What can affect cortisol levels in healthy people?

Certain lifestyles as well as foods and drinks can affect cortisol levels. However, sleeping pattern is one of the most common reasons your cortisol rhythm might be off. For example, changes in sleeping time due to jetlag or working night shifts can affect daily cortisol rhythm.

Coffee, alcohol, and carbonated or caffeinated drinks, with lots of sugar, can increase cortisol levels. They may shift your peak levels after waking up.

Some studies suggest a seasonal effect as well: a small decline in the morning cortisol peak from spring to fall.

As we grow old, levels increase at about 2% every 10 years in adults. It seems this rise starts in men about 10 years earlier than women.

Pregnancy also affects peak cortisol levels. After the second trimester, average levels almost double before returning back to baseline few days after delivery.

The good news is that married people seem to have relatively lower cortisol stress hormone levels.

What kind of drugs affect cortisol levels?

All of us have different responses to medicine, depending on our age, genes, and many other factors.

Certain drugs used for mental health are known to interfere with cortisol, e.g., those prescribed for psychiatric disorders, ADHD, and depression.

Synthetic hormones and steroids can also affect the HPA cycle (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal cycle) which includes the brain and adrenal glands for making cortisol.

In general, there are three types of such drugs:

1. Anti-depressants

These are prescribed for depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, e.g., Prozac, Zoloft, and Lexapro. They help normalize neurotransmitter levels in the brain to improve mood and behavior. But this process interferes with brain’s ability to control cortisol production. Generally, anti-depressants tend to lower cortisol levels.

2. Anti-psychotics

Used for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression, antipsychotics also help in balancing neurotransmitter levels in the brain. Abilify, Haldol, and Risperdal are a few examples of such medicines. Antipsychotics also tend to lower cortisol levels.

3. Stimulants

These are drugs used to improve attention, alertness, and energy for ADHD and sleep disorders. Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta are some of the few stimulant drugs that improve mental acuity.

Stimulants are often very desirable as they give sudden boost of energy and enhance attention. That's why there's a tendency to abuse them unless carefully controlled.

These psycho-stimulants might increase your cortisol levels.

What are some common drugs that decrease cortisol levels?

Medicines for depression and psychotic behavior generally reduce cortisol. They are often prescribed to people with excess cortisol or abnormal neurotransmitter levels.

Not all the examples below may affect everyone in the same way, but they are generally known to lower production of cortisol.

  • Fluoxetine, Escitalopram, Paroxetine, Citalopram, Desvenlafaxine (and other such SSRI drugs).

  • Duloxetine, Desvenlafaxine, Venlafaxine (and similar SNRI medicines).

  • Mirtazapine, Amitriptyline, Trimipramine, Tianeptine (and similar tricyclic or tetracyclic antidepressants).

  • Risperidone, Olanzapine, Quetiapine, Aripiprazole (and similar Atypical antipsychotics).

  • Mifepristone – and other drugs that block the effect of corticosteroids.

  • Ketoconazole – an anti-fungal medication.

  • Venlafaxine – and similar neurotransmitter inhibitors.

  • Propranolol – and other beta-blockers used to treat high-blood pressure.

  • Anesthesia drugs such as Propofol, and an insomnia medication called benzodiazepines (which were allegedly given to Michael Jackson before he died).

  • Certain antihistamines used for allergies, itching, sneezing, runny nose, congestion, hives, hay fever, flu, bee stings or insect bites.

  • Luminal, Seconal, Pentobarbital, Etomidate and other barbiturates used as sedatives.

  • Certain chemotherapy drugs used for adrenal insufficiency such as Mitotane or Lysodren.

What are some of the drugs that increase cortisol levels?

Many drugs used in allergies, asthma, inflammation, and autoimmune diseases include a class of steroids called corticosteroids that might have the side effect of increasing cortisol levels.

Here are few such drugs that might increase cortisol levels.

  • Prednisone, prednisolone, methylprednisone

  • Dexamethasone

  • Hydrocortisone

  • Triamcinolone

  • Betamethasone

  • Modafinil (used for drowsiness and sleep apnea)

  • Adderall or Mydayis (which are salts of amphetamine)

  • Methylphenidate (and other CNS stimulants)

  • PTZ or phenothiazine (which tends to affect neurotransmitter levels)

  • ADHD drugs based on amphetamine, e.g., Vyvanse, Dexedrine, methamphetamine (also called 'meth')

  • Fluticasone and Budesonide (used in inhalers)

  • Pseudoephedrine (used for congestion)

  • Clobetasol (used for skin rashes, psoriasis, and dry skin)

  • Epinephrine, norepinephrine – synthetic forms that mimic neurotransmitters in the brain

  • Cortrosyn or Cosyntropin – synthetic form of ACTH hormone

  • Opioids such as morphine and codeine

  • MDMA – also called ecstasy, molly, mandy

  • Imipramine, desipramine, and similar tricyclic antidepressants

  • Somatropin (e.g., Genotropin, Humatrope, Norditropin, Saizen)

  • Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) such as Mecasermin or Increlex

  • Egrifta or Tesamorelin for HIV treatment

  • Certain chemotherapy drugs that reduce inflammation, nausea and allergic reactions

How To Test for High Cortisol?

If you think you have high cortisol, it is easy to test them using a simple saliva sample. RxHomeTest's 24-hour saliva cortisol test kit makes home testing easy.

Just place an order, collect your samples, and ship them to our lab for free. Our lab will review your results and send you a comprehensive report in less than a week.

If you're worried something is off, take control of your health by testing today.

Order a 24-hour cortisol test kit.

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The Most Common Effects of High Cortisol Levels - know what chronic high stress can do to you.

5 Telltale Symptoms of High Cortisol Levels - see the signs before you test.

How Can My Medicine Affect Cortisol Levels? - certain drugs tend to raise or lower normal cortisol levels.

How to Check Cortisol Levels at Home? - learn about your options to measure cortisol levels.

The Impact of Chronic Stress on Your Body - chronic stress breaks down muscles to build fat & increases weight.

Saliva Testing – Advantages and Concerns - saliva is simple, easy to collect and can be as accurate as blood tests.