How To Lower Cortisol Levels Naturally

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Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but high cortisol levels are not. There are many natural ways to reduce your cortisol levels so that your stress doesn’t affect your health.

In this post, we will explore some of the most effective and safest options for decreasing those stress hormones running through your body. From natural supplements to lifestyle tips and dietary changes, we’ll help you learn how to lower cortisol levels naturally with proven techniques backed by science.

So if you feel like acute or persistent stress has been making it difficult to manage everyday life, read on to learn successful ways to reduce elevated cortisol levels.

What Is Cortisol And How Is It Related To Chronic Stress?

Cortisol, commonly referred to as “the stress hormone,” mediates our stress response, and is produced by the nervous system to help us cope with threatening situations.

It helps by increasing energy production, alertness, and awareness. Ideally, cortisol is high in the morning and gradually declines throughout the day in a healthy cycle.

However, when we experience chronic stress or trauma, our cortisol levels remain elevated and can lead to health problems such as insulin resistance, endothelial dysfunction, and reduced immune system activity. It will also lead to nervous system dysregulation, which over time can create a host of mental, emotional and physical symptoms like anxiety, burnout, skin issues, back and neck pain, chronic illness, and so on.

Fortunately, lifestyle changes can help regulate cortisol levels to stay within a healthy range.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of High Cortisol Levels?

High cortisol levels can severely impact your hormones and health in more ways than one.

Common symptoms of high cortisol include weight gain, especially around the midsection, acne, fatigue, decreased sex drive, menstrual cycle irregularities among women (e.g., absence of periods or less frequent periods than normal), anxiety, depression, headaches, insomnia, and digestive issues such as indigestion and bloating.

If these signs last for a long period, it may be an indication that there are high cortisol levels present in your body.

When Not To Lower Your Body’s Cortisol Reserves

When it comes to your body’s cortisol reserves, you want to be careful not to lower them too much. Cortisol levels regulate various bodily functions, such as metabolism and the immune system.

Excessive stress can cause a depletion of cortisol in the body, leading to fatigue and anxiety if left unchecked. Therefore, avoiding scenarios that deplete your stores more than necessary is essential.

Working out at high intensities or doing physical activity for extended periods is one example of when lowering cortisol levels should be avoided – cortisol helps regulate metabolism, blood sugar, and energy production during exercise, so reducing its levels could lead to fatigue or other issues.

Likewise, emotional or psychological events like stress from work or financial troubles can place an even greater burden on these valuable resources – try and find ways to manage the situation without excessively draining your cortisol supplies.

How To Lower Cortisol Naturally

The following supplements can help you lower cortisol naturally and are the foundation of good nervous system health and stress management:

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is pioneering in its capacity to combat anxiety and reduce stress levels. It has also been shown to lower cortisol production and improve total sleep time and quality of rest for those suffering from insomnia or simply struggling with sleep quality. Among healthy yet stressed individuals who took Ashwagandha, cortisol decreased by 14.5-27.9%. This is far greater than the effects of other supplements [1].

DHEA

DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is produced by the adrenal glands and is an essential hormone in maintaining a balance between estrogen and testosterone [2]. It has been utilized to benefit bone health & vitality, cardiovascular strength & capacity, relief from depression symptoms while promoting longevity through healthy aging practices – and its capabilities of improving sexual functionality. DHEA has been shown to slightly decrease circulating levels of cortisol. However, the influence of cortisol on studies where androgens and estrogens are also increased is highly unreliable, with decreases seen in some cases but no significant influence or even an increase observed in others.

Fish Oil

Supplementation of omega-3s through fish oil has been proven to substantially impact levels of cortisol, with participants who took 2.5 grams showing an impressive 19% decrease and 33% reduction in IL-6 compared to a placebo group [3].

Based on findings, it was concluded that omega-3 supplementation might help cells repair and slow down aging by reducing inflammation and stress hormone levels. It is also possible this decrease in stress response could lead to a decreased risk of developing depression – thus making these discoveries applicable to mental health too.

Rhodiola Rosea

Research has demonstrated a reduction in morning salivary cortisol levels when examined post-exercise [4], yet no effect was observed at baseline or past 24 hours. Alternatively, another study didn’t determine any impact of exercise on levels of cortisol.

Curcumin

Two studies have demonstrated decreased levels of cortisol in those who took Curcumin, yet further research is needed to validate these findings. Nevertheless, the available data has already indicated moderate improvements concerning depression and anxiety symptoms, as well as pain management and functional support for those suffering from osteoarthritis [5].

Tongkat Ali

Supplementing stressed adults with Tongkat Ali for four weeks yielded impressive physiological results, as cortisol decreased by 16% and testosterone increased by 37%. [6].

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba is widely regarded as one of the best herbs for cognitive well-being. Supplementation with ginkgo has been shown to reduce the rise in cortisol levels before a stress test due to its calming effects [7].

Vitamin C

Taking Vitamin C at doses of 500-1,500mg daily is linked to either a rise or fall in cortisol levels caused by exercise, with the result depending on whether it acts as an antioxidant or prooxidant. There is no effect on cortisol concentrations while resting.

Vitamin C may be especially beneficial in reducing the release of cortisol during times of stress. Studies suggest that when used to manage prolonged and strenuous activities, a high vitamin C intake can significantly reduce cortisol levels [8].

Magnesium

Although magnesium supplementation does not affect cortisol levels, prolonged deficiency can have negative consequences like muscle cramps, higher blood pressure levels, and impaired insulin sensitivity. It is vital to ensure sufficient nutrient intake to stay healthy and keep your body functioning effectively.

Nature’s Help

It’s no secret that spending time in nature can lower stress levels. A study of 36 participants living in an urban environment revealed that spending 20-30 minutes outside in nature could lead to a 9.6% reduction in cortisol [9].

How To Lower Your Cortisol Levels In The Long-Term

It is clear that for the long-term well-being of our physical, mental, and emotional health, we must address the stressors and dysregulation of our nervous system. Supplementation can be part of a holistic approach to supporting this vital process. However, one should always consult their doctor before starting any new supplement regimen.

Building a thriving, flexible nervous system, one that can recover once stressors have been removed, rather than staying “stuck” in fight or flight or a dysregulated state, is key for overall health and vitality. This can be done with both nervous system regulation and taking herbal products to reduce cortisol levels.

Being mindful of which methods best suit your needs will bring you closer to the relief from stress and anxiety you’re looking for while supporting your body.

REFERENCES

[1] Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Sep;98(37):e17186. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000017186. PMID: 31517876; PMCID: PMC6750292.

[2] Merritt P, Stangl B, Hirshman E, Verbalis J. Administration of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) increases serum levels of androgens and estrogens but does not enhance short-term memory in post-menopausal women. Brain Res. 2012 Nov 5;1483:54-62. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2012.09.015. Epub 2012 Sep 14. PMID: 22985672; PMCID: PMC3488281.

[3] Madison, A.A., Belury, M.A., Andridge, R. et al. Omega-3 supplementation and stress reactivity of cellular aging biomarkers: an ancillary substudy of a randomized, controlled trial in midlife adults. Mol Psychiatry 26, 3034–3042 (2021). 

[4] Noreen EE, Buckley JG, Lewis SL, Brandauer J, Stuempfle KJ. The effects of an acute dose of Rhodiola rosea on endurance exercise performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Mar;27(3):839-47. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825d9799. PMID: 23443221.

[5] Yu JJ, Pei LB, Zhang Y, Wen ZY, Yang JL. Chronic Supplementation of Curcumin Enhances the Efficacy of Antidepressants in Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2015 Aug;35(4):406-10. doi: 10.1097/JCP.0000000000000352. PMID: 26066335.

[6] Talbott, S.M., Talbott, J.A., George, A. et al. Effect of Tongkat Ali on stress hormones and psychological mood state in moderately stressed subjects. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 10, 28 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-10-28

[7] Jezova D, Duncko R, Lassanova M, Kriska M, Moncek F. Reduction of rise in blood pressure and cortisol release during stress by Ginkgo biloba extract (EGb 761) in healthy volunteers. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2002 Sep;53(3):337-48. PMID: 12369732.

[8] David C. Nieman, Edith M. Peters, Dru A. Henson, Elena I. Nevines, and Milla M. Thompson. Influence of Vitamin C Supplementation on Cytokine Changes Following an Ultramarathon. Journal of Interferon & Cytokine Research.Nov 2000.1029-1035.http://doi.org/10.1089/10799900050198480

[9] Front. Psychol., 04 April 2019

Sec. Environmental Psychology Volume 10 – 2019 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.