How to Lower Cortisol: Understanding and Managing Your Stress Hormone

By

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

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Published on

June 05, 2024

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Updated on

June 05, 2024

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Robert Stevens

Nervous System Regulation

Cortisol, often referred to as the "stress hormone," plays a crucial role in various body functions. However, elevated cortisol levels can have detrimental effects on your health. Understanding how to manage cortisol secretion and reduce high cortisol is essential for maintaining overall wellness and reducing the risk of various health complications.1

In this blog post, we will explore the nature of cortisol and its impact on the body and provide effective strategies for lowering cortisol and maintaining long-term healthy cortisol levels.

At re-origin, we teach you techniques that retrain your brain to better respond to stress, calm your nervous system, and address the overproduction of cortisol. If you are interested in hearing more about our program, join a free info call.

What Is Cortisol, And How Does It Work?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands located above each kidney. It is vital for regulating metabolism, reducing inflammation, and controlling the body's sleep-wake cycles. Cortisol levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day, peaking in the morning and declining at night, which is essential for a healthy daily rhythm.2

The Connection Between Cortisol And Stress

The relationship between cortisol and stress is direct and significant. In response to stress, the pituitary gland in the brain sends a signal to the adrenal glands to release cortisol, triggering the body's stress response. This mechanism is crucial for survival, as it prepares the body to face potential threats by increasing alertness, energy, and the ability to respond to challenges. However, chronic stress can lead to consistently high cortisol levels, which may be harmful over time.3

Five Effects Of High Cortisol Levels

Elevated cortisol levels can lead to several health issues:

  1. Weight Gain: High cortisol levels can increase appetite and cravings for foods high in sugars and fats, leading to weight gain.4
  2. Impaired Immune System: Chronic high cortisol levels can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to infections.4
  3. High Blood Pressure: Cortisol can raise blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.4
  4. Physical or Mental Health Conditions: Prolonged exposure to elevated cortisol can contribute to anxiety, depression, and other health issues.4
  5. Sleep Deprivation: High cortisol levels can alter sleep patterns, leading to sleep deprivation and associated health issues.4

What does high cortisol feel like?

Symptoms of high cortisol can include:

  • Fatigue 
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased anxiety and  irritability
  • Unintended weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness

Early identification of these symptoms can help effectively manage and reduce cortisol levels.4

Ten ways to lower cortisol naturally:

  1. Exercise Regularly: Engaging in consistent physical activity, especially aerobic exercises, can help reduce cortisol levels.4
  2. Maintain a Balanced Diet: Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains can help maintain optimal cortisol levels by contributing to overall gut health.5
  3. Limit Caffeine Intake: Reducing caffeine consumption can help stabilize cortisol levels, especially if not consumed later in the day.5
  4. Practice Relaxation Techniques:Techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, yoga, or qi gong can significantly lower cortisol levels.4
  5. Ensure Consistent Sleep Schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day promotes lower cortisol levels.4
  6. Stay Connected: Maintaining social connections and asking for help when needed can help reduce stress and lower cortisol.6
  7. Take Omega-3 Supplements: Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce serum cortisol levels.4
  8. Reduce Sugar Intake: Decreasing the intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates can help stabilize cortisol.
  9. Laugh and Have Fun: Engaging in activities that make you happy and laugh, especially with loved ones, can lower cortisol levels.6
  10. Practice Brain Retraining: Retraining your brain can help you respond better to stressful stimuli and ultimately teach your body to stay calm in the face of challenges.

When to Seek Professional Help

Seeking professional help to lower cortisol levels is advisable when self-management strategies do not yield sufficient results or when symptoms of elevated cortisol persist. Indicators that it might be time to consult a healthcare provider include consistently high stress levels that interfere with daily functioning and symptoms of chronic stress such as chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns. 

Additionally, physical signs such as unexplained weight gain, high blood pressure, or a weakened immune system may suggest that cortisol levels are disruptively high.

Professional guidance is crucial in navigating these options safely and effectively, ensuring that interventions are appropriately matched to the individual’s needs and health status. This approach not only helps manage stress and lower cortisol levels but also supports long-term well-being and quality of life.

Taking Control: Enhancing Health by Managing Cortisol Levels

Understanding how to lower cortisol and manage stress hormone levels is crucial for maintaining overall health and wellness. Implementing strategies such as regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, limiting caffeine intake, and practicing relaxation techniques can effectively lower cortisol levels and mitigate the negative effects of stress. 

It is important to recognize the signs of elevated cortisol and take action to address them through both lifestyle adjustments and professional guidance. If symptoms persist or you experience chronic stress, seeking professional help can provide you with tailored strategies to manage your cortisol levels more effectively. 

Remember, maintaining healthy cortisol levels is not just about reducing immediate stress; it's about lowering cortisol levels and enhancing your long-term health and well-being. By taking proactive steps toward stress management and cortisol reduction, you can improve your quality of life and safeguard your health against the many issues linked to excessive cortisol levels.

At re-origin, we teach you techniques that retrain your brain to better respond to stress, calm your nervous system, and address the overproduction of cortisol. You can take back control of your health, and we can help! If you are interested in hearing more about our program, join a free info call.

FAQ

How can I lower my cortisol quickly?

Rapid methods to lower cortisol include deep breathing exercises, short walks, and engaging in a brief mindfulness session. These activities can momentarily reduce cortisol levels and are particularly useful in acute stress situations.

What foods reduce cortisol?

According to the resource from the Cleveland Clinic, foods known to help reduce cortisol include bananas, pears, black tea, probiotics like yogurt, and high-fiber foods. Incorporating a variety of these foods into your own healthy diet can help maintain healthy cortisol levels.4

Which vitamins reduce cortisol?

According to the resource from the Cleveland Clinic, vitamins that can help reduce cortisol levels include Vitamin C and B vitamins. Vitamin C is known for its ability to regulate cortisol and prevent blood pressure from spiking in response to stressful situations. B vitamins, particularly B5, B6, and B12, also play a role in managing stress and are essential in the proper functioning of the nervous system, which can help stabilize cortisol levels.4

References

  1. Sapolsky, R., Romero, L. M., & Munck, A. U. (2000). How do glucocorticoids influence stress responses? Integrating permissive, suppressive, stimulatory, and preparative actions. Endocrine Reviews, 21(1), 55-89. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538239/
  2. Hannibal, K. E., & Bishop, M. D. (2014). Chronic stress, cortisol dysfunction, and pain: A psychoneuroendocrine rationale for stress management in pain rehabilitation. Physical Therapy, 94(12), 1816-1825. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4263906/
  3. Adam, E. K., & Epel, E. S. (2007). Stress, eating and the reward system. Physiology & Behavior, 91(4), 449-458. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2249754/
  4. Cleveland Clinic. (2020, November 5). How to reduce cortisol and turn down the dial on stress. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-reduce-cortisol-and-turn-down-the-dial-on-stress/
  5. Thirthalli J, Naveen GH, Rao MG, Varambally S, Christopher R, Gangadhar BN. Cortisol and antidepressant effects of yoga. Indian J Psychiatry. 2013 Jul;55(Suppl 3):S405-8. doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.116315. PMID: 24049209; PMCID: PMC3768222.
  6. Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. (2021, June 29). Keep your friends close, cortisol levels low for life, study finds.

By

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

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