Sunday, February 18, 2024

How To Fix Low Cortisol Levels

Low Cortisol Levels: Understanding Causes And Effects

Low cortisol levels and how to improve cortisol function with Dr. Alan Christianson

Can low cortisol levels negatively impact your health and well-being? Cortisol is known as the stress hormone so many of us assume less cortisol is a good thing. But cortisol, in proper quantities, is essential to our bodies functions. Cortisol helps regulate blood pressure and blood sugar. It also aids in minimizing inflammation and with maintaining a healthy sleep cycle.

Cortisol is released through the adrenal glands in varying amounts throughout a typical day. In the morning, more cortisol is produced to give our bodies a boost to effectively start the day off right. At around midnight, cortisol production drops to its lowest levels to allow for restful sleep. This cycle naturally happens each day as part of the bodys circadian rhythm. But lifestyle factors can set this natural balance out of whack. And that can have very negative impacts on health, wellness and energy levels.

Other Effects Of Cortisol

Some physical effects of cortisol unrelated to fight or flight include:

  • Controlling salt and water balance.

  • Acting as an anti-inflammatory.

  • Helping you wake up in the morning.

  • Regulating immune system function.

  • Regulating growth.

Cortisol release is controlled by a feedback system between your brains hypothalamus gland, the , and the adrenal gland, which together constitute the HPA axis . The hypothalamus and pituitary glands are responsible for ensuring that your blood contains the correct level of cortisol. If its too low or too high, the brain sends signals to the adrenal glands to make more or less.

Once a perceived threat has passed, your cortisol levels should return to normal, causing your heart rate and blood pressure to regulate and your digestion and other body systems to restart. However, in our stress-laden, fast-paced culture, cortisol can remain chronically high. This can cause a variety of health problems, as we discuss below.

High Evening Cortisol Levels

If you often find yourself in heated political arguments online at 9 p.m., or if you do heavy training at the gym in the evenings, its likely that your cortisol levels are skyrocketing at night right when you want them to be coming down. Some common indications of high evening cortisol levels are:

  • Falling asleep is nearly impossible and can take hours.
  • You worry in the evenings or feel especially argumentative.
  • You distract yourself by spending a lot of time online, watching TV, or working out at night which can lead to self-defeating cycle of even higher evening cortisol.

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Exercise But Not Too Much

Depending on the intensity of exercise, it can increase or decrease cortisol.

Intense exercise increases cortisol shortly afterward but will decrease a few hours later. This short-term increase helps coordinate growth of the body to meet the challenge. Additionally, the size of the cortisol response lessens with routine training .

Regular exercise has been shown in numerous studies to help improve sleep quality, reduce stress, and improve overall health, which can help lower cortisol over time .

Interestingly, regular exercise has also been associated with greater resilience to acute stress and may lower negative health effects associated with stress, such as high cortisol .

That said, overdoing it can have the opposite effect. Therefore, aim for around 150200 minutes of mostly low- to moderate-intensity exercise each week and allow yourself time to rest between workouts.


Exercising regularly can help you better manage stress and promote good health, which may help lower cortisol levels. That said, avoid overdoing it and aim for around 150200 minutes of low- to moderate- intensity exercise each week.

Which Herbal Supplements Are Best For Lowering Cortisol

How to Reduce Cortisol

Cortisol is a stress hormone made by the adrenal glands, regulating several processes throughout the body such as metabolism and immune response. Cortisol is responsible for several body functions including the ability to lower inflammation and increase glucose. It serves as a balancing mechanism between salt and water, and can regulate blood pressure as well.

Along with your brain, cortisol controls mood, motivation and fear. Cortisol is a stress hormone and can be likened to an alarm system within your body. So when you experience the fight or flight feeling, you can attribute this to your increased cortisol level.

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Medications That Affect Cortisol Levels

Several different types of prescription and over-the-counter drugs can affect morning cortisol levels.

One example is some types of antidepressants.

Here is a graph from one study that showed a lower peak in morning cortisol in people on antidepressants.

This graph illustrates the morning cortisol awakening response in a group of people with stress-related exhaustion, that only differed based on whether they were on antidepressants or not.

Again, both groups had stress-related exhaustion, but the group on antidepressants had a significantly lower morning cortisol level.

Other medications that can affect include:

  • Some blood pressure lowering drugs
  • Some anti-inflammatory and painkilling drugs, like Celebrex

What Is A Dangerously Low Cortisol Level

Addisons disease can lead to a life-threatening condition known as acute adrenal crisis. This can occur when the body is further stressed by infection, injury or other types of trauma like surgery or dehydration. It can cause headache, weakness, high fever and low blood pressure and if not treated with medication, can lead to shock and sometimes death. Dangerously low cortisol levels would be low single digit readings or essentially no cortisol production.

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How To Lower Cortisol Levels Naturally 6 Steps

You can greatly help manage cortisol levels and regain your health by changing your diet, exercise routine, sleep and stress levels. Assuming you havent been diagnosed with Cushings disease by your doctor, here are steps you can take to help lower high cortisol levels naturally:

1. Switch to a Whole Foods, Anti-inflammatory Diet

Poorly managed blood sugar levels and high levels of inflammation can contribute to high cortisol levels and other hormonal imbalances. Following an anti-inflammatory diet low in processed foods and high in antioxidants, fiber and essential nutrients is key to balancing hormones, controlling your cravings and getting you on the right track. These same strategies can also help with adrenal support, allowing you to reach and maintain a healthy weight, boosting energy during the day and helping you sleep better at night.

Some of the most significant dietary contributors to inflammation and high cortisol levels include:

  • high-sugar, high-glycemic diet
  • consuming high amounts of refined and trans fats
  • drinking too much caffeine and alcohol
  • experiencing insufficient intake of micronutrients and antioxidants
  • not consuming enough fiber
  • not consuming enough healthy fats or protein

2. Reduce and Manage Stress

Fortunately, stress management is something you can begin without too much trouble. The natural stress relievers listed below are proven to help lower cortisol and decrease the negative impact stress has on your health:

3. Exercise Regularly

Can You Have Too Much Magnesium

The REAL Causes of Low Cortisol Levels And How To Fix It by Ari Whitten

It is possible to have too much magnesium, although it is a rare occurrence. The bodys internal method of getting rid of excessive magnesium is by initiating diarrhea. Once the bodys tolerance level is reached, a harmless diarrhea will ensue. Simply reduce magnesium and this should resolve spontaneously.

Consistent excessive magnesium can lead to what what is known as hypermagnesemia. This can occur in those suffering from chronic health conditions. Indications of a magnesium overload include an irregular heartbeat, retention of urine, respiratory problems, cardiac arrest, nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, and general lethargy.

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Some Of The Signs Of High Cortisol Levels Can Include:

  • Tension headaches, chronic fatigue, and struggling to recover from physical activity
  • Mood problems, such as irritability, depression, or anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Digestive issues, including constipation, diarrhea, or bloating
  • Weight gain, particularly in the abdomen, face, and chest
  • Diminished libido
  • High blood pressure

In rare cases, high cortisol can be related to underlying health issues like Cushings Disease. So, its important to see a physician if unusually high levels of cortisol are indicated from blood, urine, or saliva samples.

Knowing how to naturally lower cortisol levels is extremely useful for improving overall wellbeing and living a happier life.

The Natural Timeline Of Cortisol Production

Before we get into the fine print of how to lower cortisol levels, we first have to know where this stress hormone is manufactured in your body. In which case, look toward the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis . The HPA axis is a complex biological system encompassing the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands .

Cortisol follows its own circadian rhythm, scientifically known as the cortisol rhythm. When your cortisol rhythm is properly functioning, your bodyâs cortisol production timeline looks like this:

  • In the early morning hours, your body temperature increases ever so slightly . This minute change is enough to ramp up your bodyâs levels of cortisol, activating the cortisol awakening response . For that same reason, cortisol is also colloquially known as the alertness-promoting hormone.
  • After jolting you into wakefulness in the early morning, your bodyâs release of cortisol surges for 30-45 minutes before gradually quieting down as the day wears on.
  • Cortisol concentration then reaches its low point around midnight. Two to three hours after youâve fallen asleep, your body resumes cortisol production until its peak in the early morning, when the cycle repeats itself.

In essence, a healthy cortisol rhythm surges in the early morning before ebbing once itâs past the late morning hours.

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Cut Out Caffeine Or Consume Less

A 2005 study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that caffeine increases cortisol secretion even in people at rest. Because caffeine can stimulate cortisol production and increase blood pressure, Krista King, MS, RDN, of Composed Nutrition, offers a solution to lower cortisol: “Try doing a caffeine reset. Gradually you have each day by swapping it out for a caffeine-free or lower caffeine alternative.”

What Are The Negative Side Effects Of High Cortisol

The Energy

Having the right balance of cortisol levels is essential for human health. So, it should come at no surprise that too much cortisol can lead to negative side effects.

“When placed in a stressful situation, our body responds by releasing hormones, including cortisol. As more cortisol is released, it raises blood sugar levels, which can lead to weight gain, mainly around the abdomen and face,” says Bonnie Balk, RD a registered dietitian and Health & Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics.

And there’s even more to it than that. “Although there are many studies suggesting the connection between stress levels and weight gain, the connection may be from another cause,” Balk adds. “As people experience stressful situations, they tend to turn to their ‘therapist,’ which is often cakes, cookies, or other sugar/salty/oily comfort food, which leads to weight gain. As abdominal fat seems to raise cortisol levels, it contributes to this unhealthy cycle.”

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The Good News: It Is Possible To Rebalance Your Cortisol

The light at the end of the tunnel is its very possible to rebalance your cortisol levels. Understanding where your cortisol levels are imbalanced using proper testing along with following a comprehensive plan that takes into account all aspects of health is imperative to rebalance cortisol. Some common cortisol balancing tips are:

1) Focus On a Healthy Lifestyle

  • Practicing stress reduction techniques daily can help to reduce stress and balance cortisol
  • Have refreshing sleep every night
  • One key cause of cortisol imbalance is poor sleep that means not sleeping well, enough or at the wrong times
  • Having refreshing sleep is key to balance cortisol levels
  • If youre not having refreshing sleep, we need to work on it!
  • Exercise is one of the best ways to lower and balance cortisol
  • 2) Optimize Nutrition

    This is where eating a balanced diet that is personalized for you and your lifestyle comes into play

    • Focusing on protein and healthy fats helps to keep blood sugar, appetite and cortisol in check throughout the day
    • Timing carbohydrates and reducing sugar help as well.
    • Coffee can further worsen a cortisol imbalance. For some people, cutting it out can help dramatically.

    3) Supplements can help a lot!

    • Adaptogens like Rhodiola, Holy Basil and Ashwaghanda

    Always check in with your Naturopathic Doctor or other health care provider before starting any treatments or making changes to your healthcare plan.

    In health,

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    Psychological Trauma Ptsd Or Childhood Adversity

    One of the factors that has been consistently linked with lower morning cortisol levels is post-traumatic stress disorder .

    Both childhood trauma and PTSD are associated with lower morning cortisol levels and a flatter diurnal cortisol curve . Having a childhood with lots of adversity, and even having a childhood caregiver with low self-esteem are all also associated with low morning cortisol levels in adulthood.

    More than reflecting the current stress load on the body or the adrenals ability to produce enough cortisol, this likely has to do with how early life stress or past-trauma can re-wire the stress response systems of the body. Psychological trauma can have a lasting impact on HPA axis function and leave its imprint by essentially re-wiring the way the brain regulates the stress response, and this is reflected in cortisol levels.

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    Problems With The Immune System

    In the UK, a problem with the immune system is the most common cause of Addisons disease, accounting for 70-90% of cases.

    The immune system is your bodys defence against infection and disease. If youre ill, your immune system produces antibodies . These antibodies attack the cause of the illness.

    However, if you develop a problem with your immune system, it can start to attack your own healthy tissues and organs. This is known as an autoimmune disorder.

    Addisons disease can develop if your immune system attacks your adrenal glands and severely damages your adrenal cortex. When 90% of the adrenal cortex is destroyed, your adrenal glands wont be able to produce enough of the steroid hormones cortisol and aldosterone. Once levels of these start decreasing, youll experience symptoms of Addisons disease.

    Its not clear why some people develop this problem with their immune system, although it can run in families .

    How To Lower Cortisol Levels Its More Than Reducing Stress

    Cortisol Stress And Belly Fat | Fix it Naturally!

    Contrary to popular misconception, learning how to lower cortisol levels isnât solely about naturopathic remedies. For example, supplements like ashwagandha, prebiotics, probiotics, and magnesium are revered for their cortisol-regulating properties. While these substances may or may not work, your goal shouldnât be to keep your cortisol load low all the time.

    The thing is, your body requires high cortisol concentrations at the right times and low cortisol levels at other times . This keeps yourself in circadian alignment such that you feel and function at your best.

    Ahead, we explain how a healthy cortisol rhythm works so you have a better idea of when and how to lower your cortisol levels when you need to. Itâs all about making this hormone work for you instead of against you.

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    First Make Sure You Did The Test Correctly And That You Truly Do Have Low Cortisol Levels

    First, make sure that you actually do have low morning cortisol levels, and it was not a mistake in testing. As youve seen, there are several different testing errors that can get someone falsely diagnosed with low morning cortisol levels.

  • If you did a one-time measurement of cortisol , this is not a valid diagnostic measure. Valid cortisol measurement requires you to take 4 cortisol measurements over the course of the first few hours of the morning.
  • If you did your previous cortisol test on a weekend , do the test again on a work day. You may not have low morning cortisol at all, but you may simply have tested it on an off day from work, and thus had much lower cortisol levels than is normal for you on work days.
  • If you got a poor night of sleep the night before testing your cortisol levels, take another test after a good night of sleep.
  • If you did not take your first cortisol measurement within the first 30 minutes of awakening, your results may not be valid. Do the test again, and make sure to get the time of saliva samples absolutely correct. Waiting too long after awakening to take the saliva samples can result in a false diagnosis of low cortisol levels when your cortisol levels are actually normal.
  • Assuming your test is valid and you truly do have low morning cortisol levels, then go on to Step #2 on how to fix the factors that cause low morning cortisol levels.

    The Real Causes Of Low Cortisol Levels And How To Fix It

    Content By

    As we covered in Part 1 on debunking adrenal fatigue, it is clear that:

    • Chronic stress does not fatigue our adrenals and cause low cortisol levels.
    • Chronic disease also does not fatigue our adrenals and cause low cortisol levels.
    • Adrenal fatigue/low cortisol levels are NOT the cause of the symptoms of stress-related fatigue/burnout/exhaustion.

    In this article and video/podcast, were going to cover the exact specific factors known to cause low morning cortisol levels.

    Listen outside iTunes

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    Lack Of Morning Light Exposure

    As the last factor hinted at, factors that disturb the circadian rhythm have a huge impact on the circadian profile of cortisol. Since cortisol levels are in sync with the brains circadian clock, the levels of cortisol at different times of the day will be altered by any input that disrupts the circadian rhythm.

    One other important factor that disrupts our circadian clock in our brain chronically, for the majority of people in the modern world is not enough bright light exposure during the daytime and especially the morning.,,,

    We spend our days indoors in dim light conditions, and most of us do not do the vitally important task of getting bright outdoor light in our eyes within the first hour of the day. Our circadian rhythm and morning cortisol levels depend on this in a big way.

    For example, it is known that seasonal affective disorder leads to profound depression, fatigue, apathy, and other symptoms. It also causes low cortisol levels in many SAD sufferers. And it is known that bright light therapy can both correct the cortisol disturbance and correct the symptoms of SAD.,

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