Natural Ways to Lower Your Cortisol Levels
If you’ve noticed that you’re easily fatigued, gaining weight even with a proper diet and exercise, or feeling more stressed than usual, you might have high cortisol levels. Cortisol is demonized due to its link to belly fat, acne, and similar problems but it is a necessary hormone that is released when you’re under pressure.
It is also related to the “fight or flight” response in the body. Essentially, you need cortisol to live.
However, when your levels get too high it can be dangerous and lead to long-term problems. High cortisol levels are linked mostly to chronic stress and long-term corticosteroids use. This can lead to weight gain, acne, hormonal imbalances, high blood pressure, anxiety, sleep problems, and even fertility problems. Thankfully, there are natural ways to lower your cortisol levels and improve your health.
What is Cortisol?
Before learning how to manage high cortisol levels naturally you have to understand what cortisol is. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal gland in response to signals from the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus. Your levels are naturally high around in the morning and lowest at night. Cortisol receptors are in almost every cell in the body because of the different functions of the hormone. This controversial hormone is responsible for:
- Balancing blood sugar
- Controlling blood pressure
- Decreasing fatigue and helping with cognitive processes
- Helping fetuses develop during pregnancy
- Keeping you awake and alert
- Maintaining a healthy metabolism
- Reducing inflammation and promoting healing
- Regulating fluid levels in the body
- Triggers the “flight or fight” response during perceived dangers
The pituitary gland releases ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) which in turn tells the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol. Physical and emotional stress, a lack of sleep, infection/illness, or an unhealthy lifestyle can contribute to these hormonal responses. When you have high cortisol levels your body believes that it is in some type of danger. In turn, the “fight or flight” response kicks in. This temporarily stops some bodily functions including the digestive, immune, and reproductive systems since they aren’t needed in these instances.
While it isn’t possible to know what your cortisol levels are without going to your doctor, there are symptoms of high cortisol levels that you can look out for. These symptoms are:
- Anxiety and mood swings
- Decreased libido
- Excessive thirst
- Fertility problems/irregular menstruation in women
- Frequent/increased urination
- General fatigue
- High blood pressure
- High rate of infection
- Increased rates of bone fractures
- Muscle aches
- Skin problems including acne
- Sleep disorders or abnormal sleep patterns
- Swollen/puffy face
- Unexplained weight gain especially around your midsection
You have to get a proper diagnosis before assuming you have high cortisol levels as these symptoms could go along with other, more serious issues like Cushing’s disease. In order to determine your cortisol levels your doctor can run different blood and urine tests but usually a 24-hour urine test is the best way to diagnose high cortisol levels and similar issues including Cushing’s disease.
If Cushing’s disease or Cushing’s syndrome is present, your doctor will run other tests as well. However, if your cortisol levels are elevated but unrelated to an underlying condition, lifestyle changes and natural remedies can help you lower your cortisol levels and maintain them.
How to Manage High Cortisol Levels Naturally
Your healthcare provider might tell you to stop taking certain medications like corticosteroids if they see your cortisol levels are too high. They might also administer medications to handle related health issues that are causing your high levels. However, lifestyle changes and similar natural remedies are usually the best ways to lower your cortisol levels. Here are some great natural ways to lower your cortisol levels.
#1. Eat More Whole Foods
Poor blood sugar levels, as well as high inflammation in the body, can cause high cortisol levels. By changing your diet to include more whole foods and less processed foods you can balance your hormones. Try to decrease sugary foods and drinks, refined and trans fats, and alcohol while increasing your fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, protein, and healthy fats.
#2. Manage Your Stress
Since stress triggers the release of cortisol, managing your stress levels is crucial for lowering your cortisol levels. Meditation is one of the best ways to manage your stress as it can actually shut down your stress response and relax you. Try to take 15 to 30 minutes to quiet your mind and meditate. Deep breathing exercises can also help.
Concentrating on deep breathing can also help slow down your sympathetic nervous system which will relax you and lower your stress. Certain essential oils can also help with stress and relaxation. Bergamot, clary sage, frankincense, and lavender are some oils you can diffuse to help battle back against stress. Spending time outdoors and acupuncture are also great ways to help manage your stress levels.
#3. Exercise More Often
Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a few days a week can help you lower your cortisol levels naturally. Regular exercise can help you manage stress, promote better sleep, balance your hormones, manage your metabolic functions, and help you lose weight. After you exercise, your body should normalize and bring your cortisol levels back down within the normal range.
However, avoid overexertion as this can trigger the release of more cortisol. Exercising will help your autonomic nervous system function properly again so that when there is a perceived threat that triggers cortisol your body will naturally bring the level back down once the threat passes. So not only will exercise lower your cortisol levels, it can prevent your body from overproducing the hormone unnecessarily.
#4. Add Adaptogen Herbs to Your Diet
These herbs and superfoods can naturally lower your cortisol levels and balance out the hormones in your body. They can also reduce inflammation, battle fatigue, regulate blood pressure and blood sugar, and even help with depression. Ashwagandha, cocoa, licorice root, reishi mushroom, Rhodiola, holy basil, and astragalus are some examples of adaptogenic herbs that you can take to naturally lower cortisol levels.
#5. Get More Sleep
While sleeping can be a problem with high cortisol levels, getting a full night of sleep regularly will lower your levels naturally. Try to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. This will reset your natural circadian rhythms and help balance your hormones.
These are a few of the best natural ways to lower cortisol levels in your body. They’re easy to do on your own and can be quite effective. While these remedies are natural, it’s still important to discuss any major lifestyle changes with your doctor. For example, before starting an exercise routine, make sure that you are healthy enough for any intense workouts. Similarly, adding adaptogen herbs to your diet should also be discussed as natural herbs taken in capsule form can interact with medications or worsen pre-existing conditions.
While cortisol is an important hormone that you need to live, high cortisol levels will lead to health problems and a decreased quality of life. Since high cortisol levels are usually related to poor lifestyle choices and similar environmental factors, there are plenty of things you can do yourself to lower your cortisol levels and live a happy and healthy life.
Try out some or all of these natural remedies and see if they can help you reduce your cortisol levels on your own. Remember, talk to your doctor first to make sure that there are no other serious health issues causing your high cortisol levels.