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.
The Best Herbal Supplements To Reduce Cortisol
There are many herbal remedies known to alleviate stress by reducing cortisol.
The following have both long histories of use for stress and the scientific evidence to support that they reduce cortisol in humans.
Ashwagandha is a traditional Ayurvedic herb used mainly to treat anxiety.
It belongs to a select group of herbs referred to as adaptogens natural remedies that counter the physical and mental effects of stress.
” Ashwagandha excels at stress reduction and decreases cortisol significantly more than many other supplements.
Adaptogens are neither stimulating nor sedating, but bring the body into a state of balance known as homeostasis.
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Arctic root is another adaptogenic herb used in traditional Chinese medicine to increase vigor and stamina.
It reduces cortisol and increases resilience to stress, but is slightly energizing rather than sedating.
What Causes High Levels Of Cortisol
Experiencing abnormally high levels of cortisol for an extended period of time is usually considered Cushings syndrome, which is a rare condition. Causes of higher-than-normal cortisol levels and Cushings syndrome include:
- Taking large amounts of corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, prednisolone or dexamethasone, for treatment of other conditions.
- Tumors that produce adrenocorticotropic hormone . These are usually found in your pituitary gland. More rarely, neuroendocrine tumors in other parts of your body such as your lungs can cause high cortisol levels.
- Adrenal gland tumors or excessive growth of adrenal tissue , which cause excess production of cortisol.
What are the symptoms of high cortisol levels?
The symptoms of Cushings syndrome depend on how elevated your cortisol levels are. Common signs and symptoms of higher-than-normal cortisol levels include:
- Weight gain, especially in your face and abdomen.
- Fatty deposits between your shoulder blades.
- Wide, purple stretch marks on your abdomen .
- Muscle weakness in your upper arms and thighs.
- High blood sugar, which often turns into Type 2 diabetes.
- Weak bones and fractures.
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Sleep Hygiene Tips For Lower Cortisol Levels
- Go to bed at a regular time each night.
- Set an alarm to get you up at the same time each morning.
- Wash your bedding and night clothes regularly.
- Keep distractions, like noise, tv, and phones, to a minimum before bed.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
- Dont exercise in the evening.
- Avoid bright lights and screens before bed.
FACTShift work from early adulthood is associated with increased, prolonged cortisol levels and a higher body mass index .
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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Symptoms Associated With Increased Levels Of Cortisol Include:
- Sexual hormone imbalance
- High blood pressure
As you can tell, stress can hinder almost every aspect of your daily routine. The longer we fight stress, the more damage it can do to our system, our mental state, and our future. That is why we must do all that we can to keep cortisol levels even-steven.
While you may not have control of lifes stressors, there are things you can do in your everyday life to help shift the balance of power back in your favor. By implementing these techniques, you may be able to process stress better. In turn, your cortisol levels should naturally decline.
The Benefits Of Phosphatidylserine Supplements
Phosphatidylserine supplements are of benefit in many areas, in addition to those mentioned above. Phosphatidylserine:
- Aids in weight loss where weight gain is associated with high cholesterol levels.
- Helps combat different psychological issues such as depression, stress, ADHD, and OCD.
- Helps improve brain performance.
- Slows down the aging process.
- Helps metabolize glucose.
- Increases the fluidity of a cells membrane and enhances a cells ability to send or receive chemical communications.
How To Lower Cortisol Levels Its More Than Reducing Stress
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.
How Does Cortisol Affect Health
The bodys adaptations of high levels of cortisol to increase blood glucose levels and catecholamines may be a highly effective short-term strategy for dealing with stress, but what happens when this hormone is chronically elevated? Although high cortisol temporarily decreases inflammation, exposure to the hormone long-term will have the opposite effect.In a sense, just as people can become insulin resistant from long-term exposure to high insulin levels, the same occurs with cortisol. Since cortisol fails to function as an anti-inflammatory in the presence of a stress stimulus, the result is a chronic state of inflammation in the body in the setting of the metabolic responses .The health consequences of this state have been linked to many conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disorders, and autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, there is some research that has led some to theorize that many idiopathic autoimmune conditions may be caused by chronic cortisol elevation .Most commonly, metabolic syndrome is a constellation of conditions fat accumulation) that is highly associated with cortisol elevation .
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How To Lower Your Cortisol Levels
If your cortisol levels are high, how you lower them will depend on the underlying cause. If its because of issues with your pituitary gland, adrenal glands, or medication youre taking, youll need to work with your GP or health professional to lower them. If its because of chronic stress, there are lots of lifestyle changes you can make to lower your stress levels:
- enjoy yourself do something you love every day, like dancing or listening to music, to improve your mood
- practice mindfulness for example, daily meditation or yoga
- connect with your friends, family, and even your pet a strong social support system is important for your mental health
- make sleep a priority do your best to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night
- break a sweat aim for at least 75 vigorous minutes of activity or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week
- eat a healthy diet aim for a lot of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oily fish
- breathing exercises for example, deep nose breathing or counting breaths
- try a supplement omega-3, vitamin B-complex, magnesium, L-theanine, lemon balm, valerian root, and ashwagandha are linked to lower cortisol levels
Natural Ways To Lower Cortisol Levels
There are several things that you can do to lower your stress levels, reduce the effects of stress on the body, and improve your overall health and well-being. Here are some common ways to help rebalance your cortisol and promote good health.
- Sleep When you sleep, how much sleep you get, and the quality of your sleep all impact your cortisol levels. We recommend keeping a consistent sleep schedule, creating an environment for uninterrupted sleep , turning off electronics an hour before bedtime, and avoiding caffeine in the evening can help you get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, which will help decrease your cortisol.
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Take Steps To Lower Unnecessary Stress
Maybe this seems too obvious, but its important to say. Its also sometimes easier said than done.
Chronic and acute stress are different conditions. Acute stress is experiencing temporary tension, anxiety or worry due to things like a work project, an upcoming performance, or even something as normal as a first date. After the event takes place, however, the stress is relieved.
Chronic stress is more long-term and leads to unhealthy cortisol levels. This can be the result of toxic relationships, untreated mental health issues, disease, physical or sexual abuse, as well as many other factors.
While some people might be able to easily cut chronic stress out of their lives, others find that seeking help through therapy, counseling, or getting needed medical attention for an illness is the first step in learning how to remove chronic stress from their lives.
What Is Phosphatidylserine
Pronounced faws-fa-tidal-serene, phosphatidylserine is a negatively charged aminophospholipid supplement that promotes brain function while actively suppressing the production of cortisol.
A phospholipid present in all cell membranes within the body, phosphatidylserine plays a role in many bodily functions. One of its vital roles is cellular communication, as well as intracellular transfer.
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Try An Adaptogenic Herb
Adaptogens are a group of fungi and plant-derived compounds that help the body adapt to stress and are known for their ability to reset the body and restore natural functioning. Re-establishing healthy, pre-stress cortisol levels is one of the many benefits of including these supplements in your diet. Ashwagandha, one of the most popular members of this group, has been shown to significantly reduce cortisol levels and calm anxiety. Ginseng and rhodiola are some of our other favorite adaptogens that may help balance your cortisol levels. Try adding these to your morning smoothie, coffee, tea, or even baked goods or discussing further with your Parsley Health clinician or health coach to receive recommendations on high quality brands and specific adaptogens that may work best for you.
Is Cortisol A Stress Hormone
Cortisol is widely known as the stress hormone. However, it has many important effects and functions throughout your body aside from regulating your bodys stress response.
Its also important to remember that, biologically speaking, there are multiple different kinds of stress, including:
- Acute stress: Acute stress happens when youre in sudden danger within a short period of time. For example, barely avoiding a car accident or being chased by an animal are situations that cause acute stress.
- Chronic stress: Chronic stress happens when you experience ongoing situations that cause frustration or anxiety. For example, having a difficult or frustrating job or having a chronic illness can cause chronic stress.
- Traumatic stress: Traumatic stress happens when you experience a life-threatening event that induces fear and a feeling of helplessness. For example, experiencing an extreme weather event, such as a tornado, or experiencing war or sexual assault can cause traumatic stress. In some cases, these events can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder .
Your body releases cortisol when you experience any of these types of stress.
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Dangers Of High Levels Of Cortisol
Constant synthetic cortisol supplements, as utilized by western medicine, could ultimately lead to high levels of cortisol in the body and their associated effects. Consistently elevated cortisol levels have a devastating effect on the body.
Adrenal fatigue is one condition that may be caused by elevated cortisol levels due to stress. Many negative symptoms normally associated with adrenal fatigue are caused by consistently elevated cortisol levels.
Cortisol is necessary for the body to cope in stressful situations, but consistently high levels of this hormone have a devastating impact on the body over the long term. It slows down cell regeneration and the healing process, destroys healthy bone and muscle tissue, monopolizes chemicals the body needs to produce other hormones vital to the bodys function, and weakens the immune system. In other words, too much of something needed to preserve life ends up destroying it.
Cushings syndrome is an illness associated with consistently high cortisol levels. It is either the result of the body continuously producing too much cortisol, or due to the long-term use of cortisol supplements.
Here Are Some Foods You Should Really Start Working Into Your Menus:
- Fermented foods
You want a balanced diet that consists of foods from every color of the rainbow. Each pigment contains unique compounds that other pigments dont have. By getting a wide variety of micronutrients, your body is less susceptible to inflammation.
- Soak Up Some of that Vitamin D
We have the greatest natural resource up in the sky, and yet we rarely get to benefit from it. For many of us who work 9 to 5, we spend a good portion of our day in a cubicle or office. Therefore, we miss out on one of the most vital nutrients in the world, vitamin D.
Our body makes very little vitamin D on its own. Therefore, we must rely on the sun for this vital mineral. Seeing as our lifestyles arent conducive to sun-worshipping, over one billion people are vitamin D deficient.
While vitamin D is most associated with strong bones, there is more to this important nutrient than meets the eye. Studies have found that vitamin D is essential to the health of the adrenal gland.
As you may remember, this gland is the one that takes a severe beating every time our cortisol production gets out of control. Therefore, low levels of vitamin D may aid in symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue .
You can take vitamin D supplements. Just be sure that they are taken with vitamin K2, boron, magnesium, and zinc. This will help with absorption. Otherwise, step outside. Many studies show that walks in nature go a long way in fighting stress.
- Catch Up on Your Zs
- Cut Down on Caffeine
- Look Deep Within
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The Symptoms Of Cortisol Imbalance
In todays modern high-stress world, high cortisol has become an increasingly common health concern. When high cortisol becomes a chronic issue, symptoms can include:
- Depression, anxiety, and irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
In the most severe cases, elevated cortisol can contribute to obesity, infertility, bone loss, and insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes. The good news is that a combination of diet, lifestyle changes, and medication can often help get your hormones back on track. Its important to note that the remedies mentioned here are commonly recommended to those who experience symptoms from excess cortisol due to lifestyle stress rather than a medical condition.
Its also critical to mention that after prolonged exposure to elevated stress, HPA axis suppression can cause the body to produce too little cortisol, which also disrupts healthy function. Symptoms of HPA axis suppression/adrenal fatigue include:
This condition is usually mild and can typically be treated using the same strategies as you would use to address high cortisol. The goal for both conditions is to balance.
Fight Or Flight Response
Some physical effects of cortisol related to the fight or flight response include:
Triggering a release of glucose to supply immediate energy to your large muscles.
Inhibiting production and digestion so glucose will be available and not stored.
Narrowing the arteries so blood pumps harder and faster to the heart and large muscles.
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How To Raise Cortisol Levels
This article was medically reviewed by Luba Lee, FNP-BC, MS. Luba Lee, FNP-BC is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner and educator in Tennessee with over a decade of clinical experience. Luba has certifications in Pediatric Advanced Life Support , Emergency Medicine, Advanced Cardiac Life Support , Team Building, and Critical Care Nursing. She received her Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Tennessee in 2006.There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 13 testimonials and 89% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 466,406 times.
Cortisol is a hormone that is naturally produced in the adrenal glands. Cortisol helps control metabolism, regulates blood pressure and promotes proper function of the immune system, so it’s important to maintain healthy cortisol levels in your body. A cortisol deficiency is serious condition that may be an indication that your adrenal glands aren’t functioning properly. See This article will help you learn how to raise your cortisol production to a healthy level.