Fact Checked By Dr B Lee M.D.
In today's fast-paced world, stress has become a common part of our lives. When we experience stress, our body releases cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. While cortisol  is essential for our survival and helps us cope with stressful situations, prolonged high levels of cortisol can have detrimental effects on our health.
It can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, insomnia, mood irregularities, and weakened immune system.  In this comprehensive guide, we will explore various strategies and lifestyle changes to naturally lower cortisol levels and effectively manage stress.
Cortisol can also increase appetite, leading to weight gain, and interfere with sleep hormones, resulting in a lack of energy and difficulty sleeping. Additionally, elevated cortisol levels can impair concentration, weaken the immune system, and in rare cases, lead to Cushing's syndrome. 
Understanding Cortisol and Stress
Cortisol is often referred to as the "stress hormone" because it is released in response to stress. In short bursts, cortisol helps us adapt to stressful events, providing energy during the day and promoting restful sleep at night. However, chronic stress can lead to persistently high cortisol levels, which can be harmful to our overall well-being. It is important to manage stress effectively to maintain balanced cortisol levels.
What Can I Do To Lower Cortisol?
Prioritize Stress Management
Stress management is crucial for reducing cortisol levels and promoting a sense of well-being. Start by identifying the stressors in your life and determining which ones are avoidable.  By eliminating or reducing avoidable stressors, you can significantly lower your overall stress levels. Additionally, consider incorporating stress management techniques such as mindfulness, deep breathing exercises,  and self-help strategies to cope with unavoidable stressors. Seeking support from a mental health professional can also be beneficial if stress is related to an underlying mental health condition.
Engage in Regular Exercise
Physical activity has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and improve overall mood and well-being. Incorporating regular exercise into your routine can help lower stress levels and promote a more balanced cortisol response. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise,  such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming, most days of the week. Find activities that you enjoy and make them a priority in your daily life.
Get Sufficient Sleep
Adequate sleep is essential for maintaining healthy cortisol levels and overall well-being. Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can contribute to elevated cortisol levels and increase the risk of various health problems. Your body needs to rest to reduce a build up of cortisol.  Establish a regular sleep schedule and create a relaxing bedtime routine to promote better sleep. Avoid stimulating activities and electronic devices before bed, and create a sleep-friendly environment in your bedroom.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques are effective for reducing cortisol levels and promoting relaxation and stress relief. Incorporate practices such as deep breathing exercises, guided meditation, yoga, tai chi, or visualization into your daily routine.  These techniques can help activate the body's relaxation response and counteract the effects of stress on cortisol levels.
Spend Time in Nature
Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and promote a sense of calm and well-being. Engage in activities such as hiking, gardening, or simply enjoying the outdoors to reap the stress-reducing benefits of nature. The practice of "forest bathing," which involves immersing oneself in the sights, sounds, and scents of nature, has been specifically linked to lower cortisol levels and reduced stress. 
Dietary Adjustments to Lower Cortisol Levels
In addition to lifestyle changes, making certain dietary adjustments can also help lower cortisol levels and support overall well-being. By incorporating nutrient-rich foods and avoiding certain substances, you can positively influence your body's stress response.
Consume a Balanced Diet
Eating a balanced diet is essential for managing cortisol levels and supporting overall health. Focus on consuming a variety of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods provide essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that support the production of neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation and cortisol balance.  Consider following a plant-heavy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, which has been associated with lower cortisol levels and improved stress resilience. However, if you're on a restrictive diet such as veganism, consider supplements to support your diet.
Limit Sugar and Caffeine Intake
Excessive consumption of sugar and caffeine can contribute to increased cortisol levels and disrupted stress response. Limit your intake of sugary foods and beverages, opting for healthier alternatives instead. Additionally, be mindful of your caffeine consumption and avoid consuming caffeinated beverages close to bedtime, as it can interfere with sleep quality and cortisol regulation. 
Incorporate Stress-Reducing Foods
Certain foods have been found to have stress-reducing properties and can help regulate cortisol levels.  Consider incorporating the following foods into your diet:
Bananas: Rich in potassium and vitamins, bananas can help regulate blood pressure and promote relaxation.
Garlic: Garlic has antioxidant properties and may help reduce inflammation and lower cortisol levels.
Dark Chocolate: Consuming small amounts of dark chocolate, which contains flavonoids, can promote relaxation and improve mood.
Salmon: Contains omega oils which have been shown to help reduce stress.
Chomomile Tea: Chamomile has been shown in trials to be a relaxant when consumed as a tea.
Vitamin Rich Veg: Stress can be caused by vitamin and mineral deficiencies, particularly B vitamins, Zinc and Magnesium.
Additionally, focus on consuming foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruits high in vitamin C and probiotic-rich foods like yogurt.  These foods can help reduce oxidative stress and support a healthy stress response.
Proper hydration is important for maintaining overall health and regulating cortisol levels. Drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day to prevent dehydration,  as even mild dehydration can increase cortisol levels. Make it a habit to carry a water bottle with you and take regular sips to stay hydrated.
Supplements to Support Cortisol Regulation
While lifestyle changes and dietary adjustments are the foundation for managing cortisol levels, certain supplements can provide additional support. It's important to note that supplements should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional, as individual needs may vary.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce cortisol levels and promote emotional well-being. Incorporating foods rich in omega-3s, such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, and walnuts, can provide natural sources of these beneficial fatty acids. If needed, omega-3 supplements can also be considered, but consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage and form. 
Ashwagandha is an herb with adaptogenic properties that may help lower cortisol levels and reduce stress.  However, it's important to note that ashwagandha may interact with certain medications and is not suitable for everyone. It’s also been shown to help people sleep better another component in reducing stress. 
Rhodiola Rosea also known as arctic root or golden root has become a popular nootropic (brain booster) in recent years. It can also lower the body's cortisol response to chronic stress, leading to a reduction in elevated cortisol levels and lower stress levels. Rhodiola Rosea is particularly beneficial for individuals experiencing stress and fatigue. 
Bacopa is commonly used to treat insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Bacopa has been shown to lower cortisol levels, reduce stress, and improve mood in a few different trials.  It's generally well tollerated and has become a popular ingredient in stress supplements.
Ginkgo biloba is a popular supplement known for its brain health benefits and cognitive performance enhancement. In addition to improving brain function, ginkgo has also been found to reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels, thereby reducing stress. Ginkgo biloba is a little less well backed than some of the supplements on this list, but the evidence is still moderately favorable. 
Cordyceps sinensis is a traditional Chinese medicine herb known for its energy-boosting properties. It has also been found to lower cortisol levels. However, it's important to note that cordyceps can increase the production of other stress hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine. Cordyceps supplements are available in various forms, including capsules, powders, and extracts.  Generally powders are the best form for cordyceps as you need quite a lot, 3-6 grams, which would be 3--6 capsules.
Phosphatidylserine (or PS) is a fatty substance that has protective effects on the brain and nervous system. It has been shown to decrease cortisol levels, reduce stress, improve mental and physical performance, and help prevent cognitive decline and dementia. Phosphatidylserine supplements are available in capsule form. Generally dosing is around 100mg and up, and whilst it's better for cognative performance, it's shown to be somewhat effective for stress. 
L-theanine is an amino acid found in black tea, green tea, and some brands of dark chocolate. Research suggests that L-theanine promotes a state of calmness by reducing cortisol levels and blunting cortisol responses for up to three hours. Incorporating L-theanine-rich foods or supplements into your routine can help alleviate stress. It's also been shown that supplementing L Theanine at 200mg/day for 4 weeks reduced stress in placebo controlled trials.  L Theanine has also been shown to help improve sleep quality which further helps manage stress levels.
Vitamins And Minerals
A lot of vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause stress and mental health issues. Most notably b vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium and zinc. A multivitamin can often cover small subclinical deficiencies.
How To Manage Cortisol Levels Conclusion
Managing cortisol levels is crucial for maintaining overall health and well-being. By implementing lifestyle changes, such as stress management techniques, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep, you can effectively lower cortisol levels and enhance your resilience to stress. Additionally, making dietary adjustments by consuming a balanced diet, reducing sugar and caffeine intake, and incorporating stress-reducing foods can support cortisol regulation. If needed, certain supplements like omega-3 fatty acids and ashwagandha can provide additional support, but should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional. By taking a holistic approach to stress management and cortisol regulation, you can achieve a better balance in your life and promote optimal health.
Remember, everyone's response to stress is unique, and it's important to find the strategies that work best for you. Experiment with different approaches, listen to your body, and seek professional guidance when needed. With dedication and a comprehensive approach, you can naturally lower cortisol levels and cultivate a healthier, more balanced life.
About Fact Checker Dr B Lee
Dr B Lee Dr Lee is a member of Center TRT's research team, he has more than 200 scientific publications, and has been a member of the global obesity center. With more than 20 years experience in health, focusing on wholistic treatment, lifestyle and dietary changes to improve health outcomes on a regional and nationwide level. View Profile
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