Discover the Top 9 Research-Backed Supplements to Lower Cortisol in 2023

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High cortisol levels, often caused by chronic stress and poor lifestyle choices, can lead to serious health issues. Luckily, various nutritional supplements can help manage and reduce these levels effectively. This guide will provide a concise overview of these supplements, their benefits, and how they can contribute to your overall well-being. Learn how to alleviate stress, improve mood, and enhance health by managing cortisol levels effectively.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that your body produces in the adrenal glands. It’s often called the “stress hormone” because it plays a crucial role in how your body responds to stress. However, cortisol is not just about stress response; it has several other functions. It helps regulate blood sugar levels, metabolism reduces inflammation, and assists with memory formulation & brain health. It also has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and helps control blood pressure. In essence, cortisol is vital for maintaining overall health and balance in the body.

How is cortisol related to chronic stress?

Cortisol and chronic stress are intricately linked. When we encounter a stressful situation, our bodies respond by releasing cortisol to help manage the perceived threat, commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. This process is beneficial in acute, short-term situations. However, prolonged periods of stress can lead to consistently high cortisol levels, a condition referred to as chronic stress.

Over time, high cortisol levels can have detrimental effects on our health. It can lead to symptoms like weight gain, especially around the abdomen, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and mood swings. More seriously, it can increase the risk of various health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and weakened immune function. Therefore, working to decrease stress and manage cortisol levels is crucial for maintaining optimal health.

What causes high cortisol levels?

Various factors can cause high cortisol levels:

  • Chronic Stress: Persistent stress leads to the body continually releasing cortisol as part of the “fight or flight” response.
  • Health Conditions: Certain conditions like Cushing’s syndrome and adrenal tumors can cause high cortisol levels.
  • Medication: Some medications, especially oral corticosteroids, can increase cortisol levels.
  • Lifestyle Factors: Lack of sleep, poor diet, and limited physical activity can all elevate cortisol levels.

Symptoms of High Cortisol Levels

High cortisol levels can lead to both physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms can include weight gain, particularly around the abdomen, fatigue, muscle weakness, and high blood pressure. Women may also notice irregular menstrual cycles.

Psychological Symptoms

On the psychological side, high cortisol levels can cause mood swings, anxiety, depression, and difficulties with concentration and memory. However, these symptoms can also be associated with other medical conditions, so seeking professional medical advice is essential if these symptoms persist.

How Can Cortisol Levels Be Lowered?

Lowering cortisol levels & making improvements to the brain and nervous system often involves a holistic approach that includes lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, nervous system regulation, and potentially the use of supplements under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Lifestyle Changes

In terms of lifestyle, management of stress levels is key. This can include practices such as nervous system regulation, yoga, meditation, and deep-breathing exercises. Regular physical activity, especially low-intensity exercises like walking or swimming, can also help lower cortisol levels. Additionally, ensuring adequate, high-quality sleep is crucial.

Dietary Changes

Dietary changes can also play a significant role. Consuming a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can contribute to overall health and help regulate cortisol levels. Limiting caffeine and sugar intake can also be beneficial.

Use of Supplements

Certain herbal supplements may help to reduce elevated cortisol levels. However, it’s crucial to follow the guidance of a healthcare professional to ensure safety and efficacy when it comes to taking supplements to reduce cortisol.

What Are the Best Supplements to Lower Cortisol?

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is renowned for its ability to alleviate anxiety and stress reduction. Additionally, it has been observed to lower cortisol levels. Several studies have found that when cortisol levels decrease, other positive effects such as improvements in anxiety, weight management, fertility, cognition, sleep, and quality of life have also been observed. [1]

DHEA

DHEA, also known as dehydroepiandrosterone, is a crucial hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It plays a key role in balancing estrogen and testosterone levels [2]. DHEA has been used to enhance bone health and vitality, strengthen cardiovascular capacity, alleviate symptoms of depression, and promote healthy aging for a longer life. Additionally, it has the potential to improve sexual functionality.

Fish Oil

Omega-3 supplementation, especially via fish oil, significantly impacts cortisol levels. A study demonstrated participants taking 2.5 grams of omega-3s saw a 19% decrease in cortisol and 33% reduction in inflammation marker IL-6, compared to a placebo group. This suggests omega-3s may aid in cellular repair, aging slowdown, inflammation, and reduction in the stress hormone cortisol [3].

Rhodiola Rosea

Research indicates that Rhodiola Rosea reduces cortisol release during stress, specifically post-exercise. However, its impact isn’t significant at baseline or after 24 hours, and some studies found exercise doesn’t affect cortisol levels. [4][5]

Curcumin

Research shows curcumin may reduce cortisol levels and moderately alleviate depression, anxiety, pain, and osteoarthritis symptoms. Yet, further studies are needed to confirm results [6].

Tongkat Ali

Supplementing stressed adults with Tongkat Ali for four weeks produced impressive physical changes. Cortisol levels dropped by 16%, while testosterone levels increased by 37% [7].

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba is known for its exceptional cognitive health benefits. Studies have demonstrated that taking ginkgo supplements can help lower cortisol levels, leading to a more relaxed state during stress tests [8].

Vitamin C

High daily intake of Vitamin C (500-1,500mg) influences cortisol levels during exercise, its effect varying as an antioxidant or prooxidant. It doesn’t affect resting cortisol levels but can reduce cortisol release in stress. It’s particularly effective in lowering cortisol during intense, prolonged physical activities [9].

Phosphatidylserine

Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a fat-soluble compound found in high levels in the brain. It plays a crucial role in cognitive performance. Abundant in fish, it has the potential to enhance memory in older individuals and reduce cortisol levels.

How to Choose the Right Supplements For You

Choosing the right supplements requires identifying your health needs and consulting a healthcare provider for personalized advice. Be mindful of potential risks like medication interactions or side effects, and choose quality products from reliable manufacturers.

One common misconception is that ‘natural’ always means safe, but this isn’t always true. Some natural substances can be harmful in large amounts or for certain individuals. Another misconception is that more is better – having too much of a good thing is possible, even with vitamins and minerals. Lastly, remember that supplements are meant to complement a balanced diet & lifestyle, not replace it.

Conclusion

In conclusion, choosing the right supplement is a personal journey that should be based on individual health goals and under the guidance of healthcare professionals. It’s crucial to consider potential risks, ensure the quality of the supplements, and remember that they are meant to enhance a balanced diet, not replace it. Always consult with a healthcare provider to make informed decisions about your health.

References

[1] Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62. doi: 10.4103/0253-7176.106022. PMID: 23439798; PMCID: PMC3573577.

[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 AA, Belury MA, Andridge R, Renna ME, Rosie Shrout M, Malarkey WB, Lin J, Epel ES, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Omega-3 supplementation and stress reactivity of cellular aging biomarkers: an ancillary substudy of a randomized, controlled trial in midlife adults. Mol Psychiatry. 2021 Jul;26(7):3034-3042. doi: 10.1038/s41380-021-01077-2. Epub 2021 Apr 20. PMID: 33875799; PMCID: PMC8510994.

[4] Panossian A, Hambardzumyan M, Hovhanissyan A, Wikman G. The adaptogens rhodiola and schizandra modify the response to immobilization stress in rabbits by suppressing the increase of phosphorylated stress-activated protein kinase, nitric oxide and cortisol. Drug Target Insights. 2007;2:39-54. Epub 2007 Feb 16. PMID: 21901061; PMCID: PMC3155223.

[5] 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.

[6] 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.

[7] 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

[8] 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.

[9] Nieman DC, Peters EM, Henson DA, Nevines EI, Thompson MM. Influence of vitamin C supplementation on cytokine changes following an ultramarathon. J Interferon Cytokine Res. 2000 Nov;20(11):1029-35. doi: 10.1089/10799900050198480. PMID: 11096461.

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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.