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
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.
Pituitary Adenomas Cushings Disease
Pituitary adenomas are benign tumors of the pituitary gland that secrete increased amounts of ACTH causing excessive cortisol production. Most patients have a single adenoma. First described in 1912 by neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing, MD, in his book The Pituitary Body and Its Disorders, Cushings disease is the most common cause of spontaneous Cushings syndrome, accounting for 60-70 percent of all cases.
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What Is It Like Living With Cushings Syndrome
Cushings syndrome can be difficult to live with, but your quality of life doesnt have to decrease. There are healthcare providers trained to help you and there are treatments available. With proper procedures and medicine, Cushings syndrome can be cured.
You may find yourself dealing with some emotional and social issues as a result of Cushings syndrome. Some people may feel embarrassed by the balding, excessive hair and/or the weight gain in the face and back of the neck. Moon face and buffalo hump may make you hesitate to participate in social situations. With time, those symptoms can be cured. Cushings syndrome can also cause depression and other mental illnesses. If need be, consult a therapist for counseling and a psychiatrist for medication to help yourself deal with the emotional impact of Cushings syndrome.
Consume A Healthy Balanced Diet
Cortisol-friendly foods have long been a topic of research. Consumption of high fat/high carbohydrate foods, which exist rarely in nature, is linked to HPA axis dysregulation and an overall increase in cortisol levels . Conversely, diets low in carbohydrate intake are also linked to higher cortisol levels, especially in females .
Similarly, long-term low-calorie dieting can also increase cortisol levels and disrupt sleep . Overall, a healthy balanced diet with adequate high-quality carbohydrates and adequate vitamins and minerals is your best bet to achieving ideal cortisol secretion patterns. If weight loss is desired, consider shorter periods of calorie deficits intermixed with periods of maintenance calories to minimize the stress response from dieting.
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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.
How Is Cushing Syndrome Diagnosed
A doctor may suspect Cushing syndrome if a person has the telltale signs, such as a rounded face, a pad of fatty tissue between the shoulders, thin skin with bruises and stretch marks, and poor growth.
In children, doctors might suspect Cushing syndrome when a child is gaining weight but not growing as expected.
The doctor will do a physical exam and ask if the child has been taking a corticosteroid medicine for a long time. In kids not taking a corticosteroid medicine, doctors might order tests. These can include:
- 24-hour urinary free-cortisol test: a urine test that collects urine for 24 hours to measure hormone levels
- a diurnal cortisol test: measuring cortisol in a blood or saliva sample
- a low-dose dexamethasone suppression test: doing a blood test to measure cortisol after the child takes a glucocorticoid
- a CRH stimulation test: doing repeated blood draws over several hours to measure cortisol levels after the child gets a shot of corticotropin-releasing hormone
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Regular Excess Alcohol And High Caffeine Consumption
Drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis can cause cortisol levels to rise. One study involving over 3,600 men and women found that alcohol consumption increased cortisol secretion in the body. The increased cortisol levels happen because alcohol affects the HPA axis.
Caffeine also increases cortisol secretion in people at rest or people undergoing mental stress.
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.
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Engage In Creative Projects
Engaging in creative pursuits such as playing a musical instrument, getting involved in a community performance, or creating visual art can also be helpful in lowering cortisol levels.
Kaimal et al. found that engaging in a painting project for 45 minutes dropped cortisol levels drastically in a group of 39 adults participating in art therapy.
Manage Your Stress Levels
Stress is an unfortunate reality in everyday life. Managing your stress, and, in turn, your cortisol levels, can help keep you healthy.
finding a good exercise routine
practicing relaxation techniques, like breathing exercises
finding your outlets, like journaling or painting
talking with a trusted source
There is no perfect or right way to manage stress. Find what works for you and practice it as needed.
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Rewire Your Sleep Schedule
Sleeping in time with your bodys biorhythms and getting enough quality sleep can help you lower your cortisol levels naturally. Time, length, and quality of sleep have all been found to influence cortisol levels, so optimizing your sleep cycle from start to finish plays an important role in lowering cortisol levels. Ideally, getting to bed by 10 p.m. will help you avoid a late evening cortisol spike which could make it hard to get to sleep and sleep soundly. This also takes advantage of natural melatonin production, which starts around sunset to help you wind down.
Research in the Journal of Nursing Research found that shift workers who sleep during the day have higher daytime cortisol and get less sleep per day than people who sleep at night, so if your job allows, its best to adjust your sleep schedule accordingly. And if you have little control over when you get to sleep, do your best to create a good sleep routinelike avoiding caffeine and alcohol and limiting screen time before bedto optimize the sleep you do get.
Maintaining A Good Bedtime Routine
A good bedtime routine can be a useful tool for getting longer and higher-quality sleep. This may involve a combination of relaxing activities that help a person unwind, such as:
- bathing or showering
- reading a book or audiobook
People should get into the habit of turning off all screens and relaxing before heading to bed. For example, it may help to turn off phones and any other potential distractions.
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Stick To A Regular Eating Schedule
Though it can be tricky at times, sticking to an eating schedule is a great way to keep stress under control. This is in part because it takes the guesswork out of when your next meal will be, which in and of itself can be a source of anxiety. In turn, sticking to a schedule can also help prevent stress-eating, another habit that can contribute to an uptick in cortisol levels, especially since we tend to reach for cortisol-boosting sweets and comfort foods when we’re overloaded.
“Recognize if and when you are engaging in stress eating: Try to keep a regular eating schedule where you avoid ever getting too hungry and avoid ever stuffing yourself to the brim,” advises Miller. “Before grabbing a snack, take a minute to ask yourself if you are truly hungry. You may find that you are really just stressed and looking for something to munch on or you are bored. Try to structure an eating routine where you eat a meal/snack every 3-4 hours while awake.”
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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Deal With Stress And Anxiety And Laugh More
Finding strategies to cope with stress can help to bring down cortisol to normal levels and prevent its side effects.
Studies have found a direct link between chronic stress and increases in morning cortisol levels. Obviously, keeping stress levels manageable will also prevent cortisol levels from rising and impacting on your health.
One study found that laughter can have a positive impact on elevated cortisol levels. Scientists found that laughing more could be a positive lifestyle change to help reduce stress and keep cortisol levels down.
You may also find it helpful to know what to do to boost your mood as that can also help regulate cortisol levels.
High Cortisol Levels Vs Cushings Disease Vs Cushings Syndrome: Whats The Difference
When the pituitary or adrenal glands produce abnormally high levels of cortisol for a duration of time, a doctor may diagnose a serious, chronic disorder called Cushings disease.
Cushings disease is usually caused by tumors on the adrenal or pituitary glands and often causes symptoms like rapid weight gain, a swollen face, fatigue, and water retention/swelling around the abdomen and upper back. It impacts women between the ages of 25 to 40 most often, although people of any age and gender can develop this condition.
Diagnosable Cushings disease caused by an overactive adrenal gland is considered much rarer than just having generally high cortisol levels. In other words, you have a much greater chance of experiencing high cortisol at certain times due to increased stress in your life than you do of ever being diagnosed with Cushings disease. While people experience at least somewhat high levels of cortisol at one time or another during very stressful episodes , rates of Cushings disease diagnoses are still very low compared to other hormonal/endocrine conditions like thyroid disorders or diabetes, for example.
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When To Lower Your Cortisol Load
While you donât want to lower your cortisol load altogether, you definitely want to avoid high levels of this stress hormone later in the day, especially as your bedtime draws near.
Unfortunately, everyday factors like sleep loss, chronic stress, and circadian misalignment incite HPA hyperactivity. In this scenario, cortisol continues to circulate in your system even after a stressor has passed. This spells trouble for your nighttime sleep as you:
- Wake up more frequently in the middle of the night,
- Have less restorative deep sleep, and,
- Cut short your total sleep duration
Lo and behold, youâve now accrued sleep debt, the amount of sleep youâve missed out on in the past 14 days relative to your sleep need.
You can blame your shoddy sleep patterns on the corticotropin-releasing hormone . Itâs a precursor to cortisol secretion that represses melatonin production. For the uninitiated, melatonin is a sleepiness-promoting hormone naturally created in your body when you’re in the dark. Think of it as the key that unlocks the gateway to sleep.
Unfortunately, excessive amounts of the stress hormone delay melatonin synthesis, so youâre more likely to stay up past your bedtime. And we all know what that entails: Late-night activities like phone-scrolling and Netflix-binging, all of which expose you to bright artificial light, further suspending the manufacturing of melatonin within your body.
What Are The Symptoms Of Cushings Syndrome
Cushings syndrome has some unique symptoms as well as some that could point towards a variety of other syndromes. Not everyone has the same symptoms. Possible symptoms include:
Rapid weight gain in the face , abdomen, the back of the neck and chest.
- A red, round face.
- Weak muscles and thinner arms and legs.
- Libido changes and erectile dysfunction.
- Stunted growth in children.
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Consume Enough Food Protein And Water
Eating enough protein and calories, and drinking enough clean, filtered water is also critical to keeping stress hormone levels low.
Studies show that severely restricting calories elevates cortisol levels .
Restricting protein and depriving yourself of the amino acid leucine can also stimulate the stress response and increase stress hormones .
Lastly, make sure you stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.
Properly-hydrated runners have noticeably lower cortisol levels than dehydrated runners .
When Should I See My Healthcare Provider
See your healthcare provider if you have the following symptoms of Cushings syndrome:
Symptoms that affect females specifically include:
- New or excessive facial hair.
- A change in libido .
- A change in the menstrual cycle.
Symptoms that affect males and females include:
- Rapid weight gain in the face , abdomen, the back of the neck and chest.
- A red, round face.
- Purple stretch marks over the abdomen.
- Easy bruising on the arms and legs.
- General weakness and tiredness .
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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