When you experience stress your adrenal glands release cortisol. What is cortisol? It’s a steroid hormone and the body’s primary stress hormone. It plays a role in several bodily functions, including the control of blood sugar levels, regulating your body’s sleep-wake cycles, reducing inflammation, controlling blood pressure, and managing how the body uses fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
In general, the level of cortisol in the blood will be higher in the morning, and gradually reduces throughout the day.
Why is High or Low Cortisol an Issue?
Effective communication between the adrenal gland, pituitary gland, and the hypothalamus is essential to release the correct amount of cortisol into the bloodstream. Between these three, the production of cortisol is stimulated when the body needs it and blocked when levels need to drop back down. Both too much and too little cortisol in your bloodstream can have an adverse effect on the body.
Excess cortisol could result from a tumor, or as a side effect of taking steroid-based medications. Too much cortisol in your bloodstream can lead to a condition called Cushing’s disease, and symptoms include:
- Red, flushed face
- Rapid weight gain, particularly in abdomen and face areas
- High blood pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Increased thirst
- More frequent urination
- Mood changes, usually feeling low or irritable
- Purple stretch marks or bruises on the skin
- Low sex drive
- Irregular periods
Too much cortisol can also lead to other health issues, including type 2 diabetes, fatigue, impaired brain function, high blood pressure, and increased risk of infections.
Damaged adrenal glands can lead to your body being unable to produce the right amount of cortisol, which can lead to a condition known as Addison’s disease. The symptoms will usually appear over time, and most commonly include:
- Gradual weight loss
- Mood changes
- Dark patches on the skin
- Muscle weakness
- Low blood pressure
How to Naturally Lower Cortisol Levels
When your brain and adrenal gland are communicating and functioning correctly, your body should have no problem increasing and reducing cortisol levels as needed. However, there are several factors which can lead to excess cortisol production. Stress, for example, plays a major part, and cortisol levels can still remain high even after you’ve resolved a stressful situation, which can have a negative effect on your overall health.
You may be wondering how to lower cortisol. The good news is that you can take control; follow these simple tips which may help to reduce cortisol levels naturally.
Reduce Stress Levels
If you’re trying to reduce the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream, the first thing that you should do is try and reduce your stress levels. Whenever possible, remove yourself from stressful situations and invest your time into learning healthier coping strategies, so you’re better equipped to manage your emotions at a stressful time.
It’s possible to learn the various triggers for your stress, so that these can be avoided, or at least pro-actively managed. As a result, you can then reduce worrisome or anxiety-inducing situations and decrease feelings of stress and tension. Overall, learning to cope when stressful thoughts and feelings arise will enable you to better manage your body’s cortisol levels. In cases where this is difficult, the help of a therapist or certain medications may be considered.
Improve Your Diet
Eating a healthy, balanced diet and paying careful attention to your sugar intake is crucial if you’re trying to lower your cortisol levels naturally. There are several foods which may help to stabilize your cortisol levels and help to reduce symptoms. These include:
- Some fruits such as bananas and pears
- Dark chocolate
- Black and green tea
- Probiotics in yoghurt and foods that contain soluble fiber
Make sure that you’re drinking enough water throughout the day to avoid becoming dehydrated; this will also help you keep cortisol levels down.
Get a Better Nights’ Sleep
The amount and quality of sleep that you’re getting at night can also have a direct effect on your body’s cortisol levels. Increased levels of cortisol in the bloodstream can be caused by a bad nights’ sleep, or prolonged levels of sleep deprivation over time.
Making an effort to limit the amount of disruptions to your sleep to improve the length and quality is essential for lower cortisol levels. You may want to try using black-out curtains, essential oils, white noise, or sleep aid apps to improve the amount of quality shut-eye you get every night. And, it’s important to avoid screens before bed, for at least an hour before sleeping, so don’t use your smartphone, tablet, or laptop as the blue light suppresses melatonin and makes it more difficult for you to drift off.
Try New Hobbies
Getting out and trying a new hobby is most commonly associated with better mental health, but it can also be good for your physiological health, too. Hobbies can be extremely rewarding; they can help you lead a fuller, healthier life, and are a great way to meet new people and form satisfying friendships.
And, a hobby that you love can also have a positive impact on your body’s cortisol levels. This study, which looked at veterans suffering from substance abuse issues, found spending time gardening as a hobby actually led to decreased levels of cortisol and improved life quality.
And, taking up fun hobbies with your friends is a great way to have fun and laugh more often, which has been directly linked to decreased cortisol levels in another study. Having a positive outlook, and being happy, appear to be related to lower cortisol levels. So, if something makes you happy, it’s good for your health!
Being physically active, whether you enjoy running, working out at the gym, swimming, dancing or anything else that gets your body moving, is beneficial to both your physical and mental health. However, be careful when it comes to intense exercise, as this could trigger an increase in cortisol levels due to the additional amount of stress that it places on the body.
The key is to build up to a level and intensity of exercise that your body is comfortable with; pushing yourself is fine but allow your body to adjust. The appropriate amount of exercise for you will depend on your physical fitness levels amongst other factors.
Get a Pet
If you’ve been considering adding a new furry friend to your family, then you’ll be glad to hear that doing so can actually help to reduce cortisol levels. Some studies have indicated that spending time with animals can reduce cortisol in the body, such as this study, which looked at cortisol levels in children undergoing a standard medical procedure. It found that children who had a dog with them at the time showed lower levels of cortisol in their blood than those who were alone or with another person.
Additionally, this study found that dogs are even better support than friends during stressful situations when it comes to cortisol levels in the body.
Supplements to Reduce Cortisol Levels
In addition to the above, you may also wish to consider adding a number of health supplements to your diet to help reduce cortisol levels and combat stress. Some of the best supplements to reduce cortisol include:
Ginseng is a popular adaptogenic supplement that is used for treating stress, insomnia and fatigue. Although there have been few human studies conducted on its effect on cortisol, several animal studies have shown that it is effective in reducing this hormone.
However, it’s important to read the instructions carefully and do not exceed the dosage. Too much ginseng can lead to ginseng-abuse syndrome, which typically includes symptoms such as water retention, high blood pressure, and insomnia.
B-Vitamins are ideal supplements to take if you want to reduce cortisol levels naturally, due to their positive effect on the brain and nervous system. They possess the ability to lower cortisol, as they have various functions in neurotransmitter manufacture, helping to protect the adrenal glands and stabilizing the cortisol response.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There have been a number of studies which point to omega-3 fatty acids as a useful supplement for reducing cortisol levels. A small, placebo-controlled study found that after three weeks, participants who took fish oil supplements daily experienced a significantly reduced cortisol spike.
Health organizations generally recommend taking a daily dose of 250-500g of omega-3 fatty acids, but there is no standard recommendation on how much to consume.
Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb that’s most commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine. Its main purpose is to improve overall balance and resistance to stress in the body. Since it can jump-start your body’s ability to produce energy, it is an excellent choice for combatting the effects of stress-induced fatigue. And, studies have shown that participants treated with this supplement demonstrated reduced burn-out, higher mental performance, and significantly lower cortisol levels upon wakening.
If you are prone to insomnia, this supplement is best taken earlier in the day. The recommended dosage is 100-300mg daily.
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Having too much cortisol in the bloodstream can be dangerous to your health. Keeping stress levels low is the best way to lower cortisol. You can do this by making simple lifestyle changes to live a healthier, more fulfilling, and active life.