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How to Lower Cortisol Levels Naturally

Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. Your brain triggers its release via the sympathetic nervous system in response to different kinds of stress (12).

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 (12).

Over time, this may result in many health issues, like high blood pressure, weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, difficulty sleeping or insomnia, low energy levels, and irregularities (12).

In this article, I’ll show you different ways by which you can lower your cortisol levels naturally.

So what happens to your body when your cortisol levels are high?

Studies carried out over the past 2 decades have shown that having moderate to high levels of cortisol may trigger an array of health issues, like (3456):

· 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.

Photo credit: By brgfx

How to lower your cortisol levels naturally

1. Get adequate sleep

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).

Workers on rotation shifts are known to have a very high risk of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and poor mental health (101112).

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

2. Moderate exercise

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).

Several studies have shown that regular exercise reduces stress, improves sleep quality, and improves overall health. Of course, these can lower one’s cortisol level over time (141516).

Regular exercise also increases one’s resilience to acute stress and may reduce negative health effects caused by stress (17).

3. Pay attention to stressful thinking

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).

Studies have also shown that regular mindfulness practice lowers cortisol levels (212223).

So, adding mindfulness-based practice to your daily activities can help with effective stress management and reduce cortisol.

4. Healthy nutrition

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 (242526).

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 (2829).

Other foods that can help with cortisol management include (293031323334):

· 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.

· Water: Dehydration is associated with a temporary increase in cortisol levels, which explains why you should drink more water throughout the day.

5. Deep breathing

Deep breathing helps with stress reduction. It can be compared to mindfulness-based practice. Deep breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn lowers cortisol levels (35).


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.

If you’d like to reduce your cortisol levels in the most natural way possible, then try the simple tips above.

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