Cortisol, when released in the short term is useful, because it helps you to flee quickly from danger. However, when cortisol levels are very high for a long time, it can cause more hurt than it helps (1, 2).
In this article, I’ll show you different ways by which you can lower your cortisol levels naturally.
· Weight gain: Cortisol makes you have a bigger appetite and signals a shift in metabolism to store fat.
· Chronic disease: Prolonged increase in cortisol increases your risk for health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and other chronic conditions.
· Inability to concentrate: This is also known as “brain fog.” It is characterized by difficulty in focusing and a lack of mental clarity.
· Difficulty sleeping/lack of energy: High cortisol levels interfere with sleep hormones, impacting the duration and quality of sleep you have.
· Impaired immune system: High cortisol levels distort the immune system, making it harder to fight infections.
· Cushing’s syndrome: Sometimes, high cortisol levels can cause Cushing’s syndrome. Cushing’s syndrome is a rare disease but a severe one.
Several factors may contribute to an increase in cortisol levels. These include cancer of the adrenal or pituitary glands, side effects of certain medications (for instance, hormonal therapy and prednisone), or chronic stress (7).
Underlying chronic conditions like obesity may trigger an elevation of cortisol (7).
To regulate your cortisol level, you should consult a qualified health practitioner who will define the root cause of your condition. It is also important that you introduce effective habits that will help manage cortisol levels.
Getting adequate sleep daily may be a great way to lower your cortisol levels. Underlying sleep issues like insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, or shift work are associated with cortisol levels (8).
A 2011 study found that cortisol levels were very high in night shift workers compared to day shift workers (9).
If you are a shift worker or you have a bit of a problem with your sleep schedule, there are a couple of things you can do to optimize your sleep. These include:
· Having a consistent bedtime routine (reading a book, shower, etc.)
· Limit intake of caffeine
· Going to bed and waking up at the same time daily
· Avoiding alcohol and nicotine
· Limiting exposure to bright light at night
· Having naps
Exercise can help decrease or increase cortisol. However, this depends on the intensity.
Intense exercise causes your cortisol level to rise sharply, after which it decreases a couple of hours later. The short-term increase in cortisol level coordinates the growth of the body to meet the challenge. It is also worth mentioning that the level of cortisol response lessens with routine training (13).
Regular exercise also increases one’s resilience to acute stress and may reduce negative health effects caused by stress (17).
Paying attention to your thoughts, especially stressful ones, may help you reduce them. Thus, a key strategy is mindfulness-based stress reduction. This strategy involves accepting stress-provoking thoughts without resistance or judgment and then giving yourself ample time to process them (18).
Training yourself to recognize your thoughts, heart rate, breathing, and other forms of tension can help you recognize stress just when it begins (18).
By focusing on your physical and mental state, you’ll observe stressful thoughts objectively, rather than being a victim of them or succumbing to them (19).
By recognizing stressful thoughts, you can create a deliberate and conscious reaction to these thoughts. For instance, a study involving 43 women who partook in a mindfulness-based program showed that the ability to describe stress and articulate it was associated with a lower cortisol response (20).
Do you know that nutrition has a direct influence on your cortisol level?
Well, here’s what you should know. Nearly all foods can be enjoyed in moderation. However, being mindful of the kind of foods you eat can help alleviate stress symptoms and manage your cortisol levels more efficiently.
Regular intake of added0sugar can trigger an increase in your cortisol level. On the other hand, a high sugar diet may suppress the release of cortisol during stressful events. This will make it harder for your body to handle stressful situations (24, 25, 26).
A particular study found that a diet with lots of refined grains, added sugar, and saturated fat increased cortisol levels significantly compared with a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and polyunsaturated fats (27).
Nutritional studies have shown a powerful link between a healthy gut microbiome and good mental health. And so, eating enough to build your gut may help reduce anxiety, stress and also improve your health overall (28, 29).
· Whole grains: Whole grains contain a lot of fiber and polyphenols. Both support gut health and stress levels.
· Dark chocolate: It is rich in flavonoids which buffers the adrenal gland’s reaction to stress, resulting in a low release of cortisol.
· Vegetables and whole fruits: Vegetables and whole fruits are loaded with plenty of polyphenolic compounds and antioxidants that fight free radicals.
· Lentils and legumes: They are rich in fiber and support a healthy gut. They also manage blood sugar levels efficiently.
· Green tea: Green tea contains L-theanine, a calming compound that reduces stress and increases mental alertness.
· Prebiotics and probiotics: Prebiotics, like soluble fiber, provide nutrition for probiotics, which are symbiotic bacteria found in foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt. Both prebiotics and probiotics are associated with improved mental and gut health.
· Healthy fats: A diet low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fat is associated with improved mental well-being and overall health. Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with excellent brain health and reduced stress. Healthy sources include nuts, fatty fish, and seeds.
Cortisol is a stress hormone. It is released by the adrenal gland when the body is undergoing stressful situations. While cortisol may be useful for reacting to psychological and physiological stressors, very high levels can cause bad health.