If you’ve been feeling tired, unable to sleep, or have been experiencing mood swings recently, it’s time to get your cortisol levels checked. High cortisol levels can lead to health issues that can affect your everyday life.
Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone, and it plays a vital role in many bodily functions, including controlling blood sugar levels. However, too much cortisol can also hurt the body.
Some natural ways to lower cortisol levels are regular exercise, eating healthy foods, taking the right amount of sleep, essential oil, etc.
Read on to learn more about cortisol and some natural ways to lower this stress hormone in the body.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands. It plays an essential role in many bodily functions including controlling blood pressure and blood sugar levels, reducing inflammation and regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycles.
Typically, the levels of cortisol in the blood are the highest in the morning, and they gradually decrease through the day.
Cortisol levels in your body increase in response to stress. The adrenal gland, pituitary, and the hypothalamus work together to regulate the cortisol levels in the body.
High cortisol level symptoms
If the cortisol levels in the body remain too high for too long, it can cause several adverse effects. These effects can be the result of a tumor or the side effect of some medication.
The complications caused by high levels of cortisol include:
- High blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Impaired brain function
Too much cortisol can also lead to Cushing’s syndrome (1), which can have the following symptoms:
- High blood pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Increased thirst
- Flushed face
- Frequent urination
- Mood swings
- Weight gain in the face or abdomen
- Purple bruises on the skin
- Decreased sex drive
Low levels of cortisol can be equally bad for health. It can lead to Addison’s disease. The symptoms include –
- Muscle weakness
- Weight loss
- Mood swings
- Darker skin
- Low blood pressure
Ways to lower cortisol naturally
The best ways to lower cortisol levels is to be proactive and to make specific lifestyle changes. Here are some ways in which you can lower your cortisol levels –
1. Reduce stress
Stress is a common trigger for cortisol release. One study found that when the participants wrote about their traumatic experiences, their cortisol levels increased as compared to those who wrote about pleasant experiences (2).
If you want to reduce your cortisol levels, your first aim should be to reduce stress. Follow these easy ways to reduce stress –
- Meditation helps promote relaxation and lowers cortisol levels. Daily meditation or healing prayers for just 15 to 30 minutes can promote more relaxation. Mindful-based stress reduction programme also helps improve brain and heart health and boosts immunity (3).
- Deep breathing exercises help the body relax by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Diaphragmatic breathing helps relieve tension and anxiety.
- Spending time outdoors also helps promote relaxation. Be it walking in the park or gardening, any activity that is outdoors and away from technology will help you relax.
- Acupuncture is a part of the traditional Chinese medicine that helps in relieving stress.
2. Get the right amount of sleep
Cortisol levels are affected by the timing, length and the quality of sleep. According to a review of 28 studies on sleep deprivation in shift workers, researchers linked disturbed circadian rhythms in humans with a variety of mental and physical disorders.
The cortisol secretion of these workers increases and this impacts work safety, performance, and productivity (4).
For people with normal circadian rhythms, the cortisol levels rise during the early morning, gradually decline during the day and drop to very low during the night.
People with high cortisol levels can end up feeling anxious during the night and fatigued during the day.
Follow these few steps to help you sleep better –
- Exercise during the day and be physically active.
- Stick to a regular bedtime.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks in the evening.
- Limit exposure to electronic devices at least 30 minutes before your bedtime.
- If you are a shift worker, take naps to prevent sleep deficit.
According to a study school, exercise helps to relax, it provides stimulation and calm, and counters depression and dissipate stress (5).
Though exercise leads to a rise in cortisol after exercise, it is helpful in the long term as it brings down the cortisol levels afterward (6).
This cycle helps our body understand and handle stress better. So the next time your cortisol levels rise, your body will be able to bring it down faster and more efficiently.
Experts recommend 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise daily to lowering cortisol levels.
4. Eat healthy foods
High sugar intake can trigger the release of cortisol, and constant high levels of sugar intake can keep the levels elevated (7). Inflammatory foods like processed foods can also raise cortisol level and create a hormonal imbalance.
Having a diet that is low in processed food, and contains antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients, helps balance hormones and control carving.
The foods you must avoid are –
- Foods with added sugar
- Processed food
- Food with a high glycemic index
- Trans fats
Opt for healthier food like –
A few specific foods are especially helpful in reducing cortisol levels. These include –
Dark chocolate – According to a 2014 study, dark chocolate buffers endocrine stress reactivity, which helps prevent high levels of cortisol (8).
Bananas and pears: During a study when athletes consumed bananas and pears during the 75 km cycling ride, it helped lower their cortisol levels (9).
Water – Staying hydrated help reduce cortisol. During a 2006 study, staying hydrated during training helped nine male runners control their cortisol levels (10).
5. Use essential oils
Inhaling essential oil helps improve the body’s stress response as it helps tone down the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. Essential oils also increase the action of the parasympathetic nervous system.
According to a 4-week study, the researchers found that when stressed and hypertensive patients inhaled certain essential oils, they experienced considerably lesser cortisol levels and stress (11).
Another study found that a handkerchief infused with lavender essential oil helped reduce stress in heart and abdominal surgery patients (12).
During one on study 30 children about to get dental procedures, orange essential oil helped reduce anxiety and lower salivary cortisol levels (13).
Diffusion and inhalation are one of the most effective ways to reap the benefits of essential oils. Some of the best essential oils to lower cortisol levels are –
Ways to use –
- Add one or two drops of the essential oil on your handkerchief and inhale it for 20 minutes.
- Always dilute an essential oil with a carrier oil (coconut or jojoba oil) before you rub them on your skin.
6. Use adaptogenic herbs
Adaptogenic herbs have been used in traditional medicines for centuries to help lower stress and anxiety. Adding adaptogen foods to your diet can help you make you more resilient to the damaging effects of cortisol.
Use these adaptogenic herbs to lower your cholesterol levels:
- Ginseng: Red ginseng has antioxidant and antidepressant properties, and it also helps to reduce blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
- Holy basil: Also known as tulsi, this herb helps lower fatigue and stress. It boosts the immune system, regulates hormones and helps maintain blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
- Ashwagandha: This is an Indian Ayurvedic medicine that regulates the immune system and eases anxiety.
- Astralagus root: Used in the traditional Chinese medicine, astralagus root helps lower stress and boosts immunity.
- Licorice root: Licorice can protect the thymus from the harmful effects of cortisol.
- Rhodiola: Rhodiola provides relief from stress-related mental and physical fatigue.
- Cordycep mushrooms: These mushrooms have antioxidant properties.
7. Have good relationships
A healthy and a happy relationship can be a source of happiness and mental peace. It is usually family and friends that help you deal with stresses of life.
According to a 2013 study, children from warm and stable families have lower levels of cortisol as compared to children from homes that have a conflict (14).
In another study, researchers found that nonjudgemental awareness during a conflict discussion showed a quicker cortisol recovery (15).
In other words, having healthy relationships helps improve cortisol levels and promotes emotional and physical health.
8. Get a pet
Studies have also shown that taking care of a pet can help lower cortisol levels. During an investigation, researchers observed that social support in the form of a pet could affect both sympathetic and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal reactivity in response to a psychological challenge (16).
In another experiment, interaction with a therapy dog helped lower stress and cortisol levels in children undergoing a minor medical procedure (17).
How high-cholesterol is level diagnosed?
Your doctor can prescribe either a blood or a urine test if he suspects that you have high cortisol levels. Some doctors also recommend a saliva test as they are as reliable as a blood test.
The values of cortisol can differ depending on the time of the day and the age of the patient. The average range of normal cortisol levels are –
For adults and children
- Morning: 5 to 23 mcg/dL
- Afternoon: 3 to 16 mcg/ dL
- 2 to 11 mcg/dL
Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands. It’s level in the body increases in response to tress. It is also essential for controlling blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
However, chronic high levels of cortisol can lead to various symptoms like fatigue, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, and weight gain. Follow the lifestyle changes mentioned above to help lower your cortisol levels.