Foods To Lower Cortisol
It’s hard to understate the importance of a good diet. Many health issues can be managed with the right foods, including foods to lower cortisol. It’s also usually a good idea to avoid sugar, processed foods, trans fats, and sugary drinks. These add to your adrenal load, increase the number of oxidants in your body, and could contribute to inflammation, weight gain, mental health issues, and more.
Are There Foods That Reduce Cortisol
Yes, no and maybe. Some research suggests that foods like tea, chocolate and fish oils might lower cortisol. But such studies tend to be small and not very conclusive, Dr. Lin says.
Youre unlikely to balance cortisol levels by adding anchovies to your pizza or scarfing a block of chocolate, she says. But good nutrition can make a difference.
Cortisol interacts with neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that send signals in the brain. Neurotransmitters play an important role in mood. And cortisol isnt the only compound that influences them. To make those neurotransmitters, you need all the raw ingredients: vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, Dr. Lin says.
The best way to get them is with a balanced, plant-heavy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, she adds. A healthy diet is the underpinning of stress management.
A balanced meal plan can ensure youre getting the nutrients your body needs. And talk to your doctor about taking a basic multivitamin. Its a good insurance policy to make sure youre not deficient in any vitamins, Dr. Lin says.
Supplements To Reduce Cortisol: Take The Next Step
Excess production of the stress hormone cortisol can be very damaging to your brain health and mental wellness.
While theres an abundance of supplements that claim to decrease cortisol, most rely on animal studies or clinical trials using well-trained athletes to support these claims.
Only a handful of supplements have been shown to reduce cortisol in typical humans under normal circumstances.
Cortisol-lowering supplements are a diverse group that includes traditional herbs, certain fats, compounds found in specific foods, and some core nutrients.
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Figure Out Your Stress Triggers
Stress and cortisol are closely interlinked. A stressor is any stimuli that causes anxiety or stress. It can be something physical or psychological, like a threat to your safety or an unexpected change to your environment. It could also be pain, financial worries, relationship issues, or work-related problems.
When your body is exposed to stress, cortisol is released to keep the body on high alert and can even provide much needed energy, an important factor in the fight or flight response. Therefore, stressful situations increase cortisol production.
Understanding your own triggers is vital if you want lower cortisol levels. Keep a journal to record stressful situations. You dont have to go into detail, but make a note of what happened and consider why it made you feel bad.
You can use this information to find practical ways of managing these situations. For example, stepping away from arguments, learning to say no to extra work, and avoiding unnecessary triggers are good places to start.
Why High Cortisol Levels Are Harmful
Before you stress out about feeling stressed, it’s important to remember that cortisol spikes can sometimes be a good thing. “Having high cortisol levels is a necessary adaptive response,” says William Davis, M.D., cardiologist and author of Super Gut. “We want a high cortisol level to wake up in the morning and deal with acute stressful situations.”
However, he adds, “when you have repetitive or long-term chronic stress this can lead to physiologic consequences.”
One of the most prominent side effects of prolonged high cortisol levels is weight gain, explains Davis, specifically visceral fat. “This is the fat that encircles the organs, intestines, and liver, and is inflammatory fat,” he says. “Visceral fat leads to insulin resistance and contributes to diseases like high blood pressure, coronary disease, and type 2 diabetes.”
Cortisol can also weaken the activity of certain cells linked to the immune system, says Heather Moday, M.D., an immunologist, functional medicine practitioner, and author of The Immunotype Breakthrough. This lowers the production of antibodies and can weaken the body’s immune response over time.
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What Is Cortisol How Is It Related To Chronic Stress
Cortisol is the bodys primary stress hormone. It is produced by the adrenal glands, then released when the body is dealing with stressful situations or imminent danger .
It is important to keep stress levels under control because the prolonged presence of psychological stressors can lead to an overproduction of cortisol. While the body needs cortisol to manage stress, too much cortisol can lead to a chronic stress response. This can impact various organ systems in the body and have negative effects on the immune system, digestive system, mental status, metabolism, and overall health.
Studies have shown that moderate to high levels of cortisol can increase the risk of chronic disease, including heart disease and diabetes. It can also lead to weight gain and obesity, interfere with sleep, cause brain fog, and impaired immune responses against infection.
Besides external stressors, a rare but serious disease called Cushings syndrome can result in very high cortisol levels in the body.
Get A Good Night’s Sleep
Every dietitian we spoke with mentioned the positive impact an adequate night’s sleep can have on one’s cortisol levels. Cortisol rises and falls based on our sleep cycles: it’s highest just after we wake up and lowest right before we hit the hay. So, it’s no surprise that sleep and cortisol levels are so heavily interconnected.
“Due to cortisol levels being linked to circadian rhythm, making sure you are getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night will help keep cortisol levels normal,” explains White. “This can also help keep the fat off.” According to Wake Forest researchers, people who sleep five hours or less put on two and a half times more belly fat, while those who sleep more than eight hours pack on slightly less than that.
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Set Limits On Work/obligations
This is perhaps the hardest part for many of my own personal clients who are struggling to balance careers, kids, and demanding homelives. As much as we want to do it all, we have real physiologic limits. Humans tend to perceive failure when they are unable to meet expectations.Eventually, this feeling of failure leads to a sense of lack of control and activation of the stress response . Setting personal limits and being somewhat selfish with your time can also help to reduce stress. Make a list of your obligations. Set realistic goals for what you can accomplish. Which of these things are important and which are not worth your time?
Scale Down The Stress Levels
Stress management is the other half of the equation when solving the question of how to lower cortisol naturally for optimal wellness. It can be as simple as spending time in nature or reading a book to lower stress.
For the most part, science recommends mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques like progressive muscle relaxation â tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups â and diaphragmatic breathing, which features deep breathing exercises.
You may also wish to try mind-body interventions like tai chi and qigong to promote relaxation and lessen tension. A 2018 systematic review also advocates for regular physical activity against stress. According to the review, staying fit means youâre more likely to reduce your cortisol and heart rate reactivity. You will also experience less anxiety, more calmness, and a better mood. Not to mention, exercising has the added bonus of encouraging weight loss, which, for the overweight, can aid with getting sufficient sleep. Just make sure you donât work out right before you sleep.
Other stress-reduction techniques you may wish to try:
No matter which stress reduction tactics you choose, itâs imperative that you prioritize them in the latter half of the day. Perhaps you can fit in a workout session before dinner and segue into your evening wind-down afterward. Because everyoneâs wind-down routine looks different, the “Evening routineâ habit in the RISE app lets you build it the way you want.
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How Does It Work
Your hypothalamus and pituitary gland — both located in your brain — can sense if your blood contains the right level of cortisol. If the level is too low, your brain adjusts the amount of hormones it makes. Your adrenal glands pick up on these signals. Then, they fine-tune the amount of cortisol they release.
Cortisol receptors — which are in most cells in your body — receive and use the hormone in different ways. Your needs will differ from day to day. For instance, when your body is on high alert, cortisol can alter or shut down functions that get in the way. These might include your digestive or reproductive systems, your immune system, or even your growth processes.
Sometimes, your cortisol levels can get out of whack.
Avoid Or Limit Alcohol Intake When You’re Stressed
Because alcohol often puts people at ease and makes them feel relaxed, you might think that it has the ability to lower cortisol levels. In fact, the exact opposite is true. A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that men who had just one drink a week saw a three percent rise in their cortisol levels, and those levels can be even higher if you’re under a tremendous amount of pressure.
“We see people using alcohol to help relax however, alcohol is a depressant. While yes, in the moment you may feel ‘better,’ alcohol causes several issues that appear later on,” says Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, who serves on the advisory board for Smart Healthy Living.
“Also, alcohol can also depress your mood. Couple a depressed mood with stress and you may find yourself in a terrible rut,” she adds. “Alcohol can also disrupt deep sleep, so not only will you be hungover after a night of drinking, but you may also feel sick and lack a good night’s sleep!”
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Care For Your Gut Microbiome
Evidence suggests a connection between stress and the gut microbiome. If youre looking to lower stress and cortisol levels, building a healthy and diverse gut microbiome may help.
Eating probiotic foods like kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and live yogurt is a good way to improve your gut microbiome. Probiotic foods are any foods with good gut bugs that, when eaten, benefit your health.
Similarly, prebiotics are another important component of a well-balanced and gut-friendly diet. They serve as food for your good gut bugs, and evidence suggests they may also help lower cortisol levels.
In one study with 69 students, those who consumed a daily probiotic drink saw significantly lower cortisol levels than the control group after 12 weeks.
Getting regular exercise, enough sleep, and looking after your mental health are also good for your gut microbiome and your cortisol levels.
Phosphatidylserine As A Cortisol Supplement
The supplement phosphatidylserine has a positive effect on your mind and memory and can help reduce cortisol production.
One small study found that phosphatidylserine supplements of 600 mg a day can lower cortisol levels after intensive exercising. This can be an effective way for athletes or people who enjoy regular intensive exercise to avoid the effects of too much cortisol.
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Tips How To Lower Cortisol Levels To Reduce Stress
Learning how to lower cortisol levels to reduce stress can be beneficial for everyone, although most of us are not aware how easy this can be accomplished by following some simple techniques.
Stress is a normal part of life. It can occur due to any number of situations, from professional or personal experiences, to psychological or traumatic ones.
Everyone deals with the angst and nagging pressure of stress from time to time and its an inevitable part of life.
However, understanding how to reduce cortisol to minimize stress can be an effective way to lessen the impact that it has on our daily life.
Get Enough Quality Sleep
One of the ways to prevent suffering from the symptoms of high cortisol is to get enough sleep.
The reason that not getting enough sleep impacts your health so much is that it affects the HPA axis and cortisol levels. Scientists have found that getting quality sleep is just as important as getting enough sleep to help maintain proper cortisol levels.
Excess cortisol levels are just one of the ways a lack of sleep affects your body. Find out what else happens to your health when you dont get enough sleep.
If you have trouble getting to sleep, find out which foods can help to get a better nights sleep.
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Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is something of an odd term, but it means going to bed and waking up at a regular and consistent time each day, even on the weekends. The magic number for most people is to get 7 to 9 hours of restful slumber on a nightly basis.
This will help the bodys natural sleep and wake cycles, in which cortisol plays a big role. Good sleep habits will actually improve the amount of restful, regenerative sleep a person needs by naturally balancing cortisol levels.
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.
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Foods & Ingredients To Look Out For
There’s no magic food to instantly lower cortisol and stress levels, but certain ingredients can and help regulate the release of cortisol. That’s because there’s a link between high cortisol and intestinal permeability, says Davis.
“All of us have some degree of intestinal permeability. Because the GI tract is semi-permeable, things get in and out all the time,” he explains. “But when cortisol is high, that degree of permeability gets higher. When that happens, bacterial breakdown products enter the bloodstream causing inflammation, insulin resistance, and stimulates the release of more cortisol.”
There are a few foods and ingredients that can help slow this process down. They are:
How To Lower Cortisol For Less Stress And A Healthier Lifestyle
We often think of stress as a key contributor to developing disease, but that isnt the most accurate term to describe the mechanism behind whats actually happening in the body.
Instead, we should turn our attention to our cortisol, the stress-adapting hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol is released in response to threatening situations when the bodys survival mechanisms kick in. In acute stress situations, cortisol can help you run faster or fight off an attacker, heightening your senses and putting you on alert. When the danger has passed, cortisol levels drop, allowing you to rest.
But modern life, where stressors are constant and surround us in many different forms, has made many of us overproduce cortisol. This overproduction results in fatigue, brain fog, mood issues, hormonal dysregulation, and eventually adrenal burn out.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your bodys cortisol production and restore balance to the stress response.
- High cortisol levels result from physical and emotional stress on the body and can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, irritability, weight gain, inflammation, and more.
- Practices for lowering cortisol include stress identification and reduction, eating a whole foods diet, prioritizing minerals, supplementing when needed, etc.
- With dedication to diet and stress management, regulating cortisol is absolutely possible.
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Get A Good Nights Sleep
Sleep deprivation increases cortisol, particularly the evening after the lack of sleep has occurred. Cortisol is produced by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is also responsible for regulating sleep cycles. If the HPA axis is activated by stress, illness, or poor nutrition, it can have a knock-on effect on your sleep and subsequent stress hormone levels.
The best way to ensure you get restful sleep is to incorporate good sleep hygiene. Make your bedroom a peaceful environment by limiting things that disrupt your sleep, like noise and light. Blackout curtains, an eye mask, earplugs, or a noise machine can help.