10 Natural Ways To Lower Elevated Cortisol Levels For Optimal Health

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Some of us experience stressful seasons of life. Others live in a constant state of stress. 

But, no matter which category you find yourself in, your body’s response to stress can be a help or a hindrance. 

Too much stress, or too much of your body’s internal response to stress, can cause your cortisol levels to be elevated. 

And, unfortunately there’s a laundry list of negative side effects that come with having too much of this stress hormone released all at once or over time.  

Ah, but thankfully there’s also a laundry list of ways to combat elevated levels of cortisol naturally! 


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What Is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone that your body releases as a response to stress. 

This hormone, or the release of it, is essentially the ignition switch on your body’s fight or flight response. 

And, while a small amount of cortisol can work for your good – fighting inflammation internally, regulating sleep, controlling blood pressure levels, and managing your body’s use of macronutrients – when those levels are elevated, a storm is brewing. 

When too much cortisol is released in your body, or when it is released too often, the following negative side effects or symptoms may occur: 

  • high blood sugar 
  • irregular periods or the absence of periods
  • high blood pressure
  • fatigue or low energy
  • heart disease
  • insomnia
  • type 2 diabetes
  • increased risk of developing infections
  • weakened immune system
  • cognitive impairment  
  • weight gain
  • tumors
  • Cushing’s Syndrome (see the following list of Cushing’s symptoms)
    • high blood pressure
    • muscle weakness
    • flushed face
    • mood changes
    • frequent urination
    • lowered sex drive
    • osteoporosis
    • bruising

And, unfortunately, the threat of that list of concerns hits home for each and every one of us, since we’re all prone to stressful seasons of life.

So then, let’s explore some effective ways to naturally lower your cortisol levels and allow this hormone to help, and not hinder, the health of your body. 


1- Sleep 

Both sleep deprivation and irregular sleep patterns can cause increased levels of cortisol in your bloodstream. 

Studies have shown that even those individuals who sleep during daytime hours due to job schedules can have increased levels of cortisol. 

To regulate cortisol levels through sleep, establishing a regular pattern is recommended. 

Seek to get 7-9 hours of restful sleep nightly, and incorporate healthy sleep practices such as avoiding screen time and caffeine close to the time you want to go to sleep, lowering your bedroom temperature a few degrees, waking at the same time each morning, and even using room darkening shades if you must sleep during daytime hours.


2- Laughter

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “laughter is good medicine.” Well, it seems that this sentiment holds a lot of truth! 

Studies show that 10-20 minutes of true laughter can reduce serum cortisol. 

Having a good time, laughing, being happy, these can all reduce stress and lower elevated cortisol levels as well as improve your immune responses and even reduce blood pressure. 

When you laugh, hormones like cortisol are suppressed, and hormones like endorphins are released, improving your mood…and your health! 


3- Hydration

Dehydration acts as a stressor to your body, prompting the release of cortisol. 

And, as other organs and body systems do not function properly when you are dehydrated, this can exacerbate the problem, slowing natural detoxification processes and even contributing to inflammation. 

Drinking enough water throughout the day, half an ounce of water for every pound you weigh, can keep your body systems functioning optimally and regulate cortisol levels. 


4- Cut Caffeine

Caffeine can act as a double edged sword regarding cortisol.  

This stimulant prompts the release of cortisol, and high levels of cortisol contribute to insomnia and low energy. 

Then, what do many folks reach for when they’ve not slept well and are feeling sluggish? Caffeine! 

So, high cortisol levels can leave you feeling fatigued, tempting you to reach for caffeine, then the caffeine causes an increase in cortisol levels as well. It’s a never ending cycle. 

So, avoiding or limiting caffeine is best, but options like antioxidant rich green tea can be a healthy cortisol lowering replacement for beverages high in caffeine and processed sugars (like sodas). 

And, if you must have caffeine at some point in your day, then seek to avoid consuming this stimulant at night, as this can disrupt sleep, another factor in controlling cortisol levels. 


5- Exercise

While intense exercise has the potential to increase cortisol levels as your body undergoes stress during such sweat sessions, those levels decrease a few hours after exercise. 

The act of exercise alone can reduce stress, but this process of increasing and decreasing cortisol levels through exercise can actually teach your body how to handle stress more appropriately creating a greater resilience to such situations. 

To only experience the cortisol reducing effects of exercise (omitting the immediate spike in cortisol from high intensity activity), low intensity exercise is a proven way to reduce circulating cortisol levels. 


6- Stress Relief

As stress is the key in the ignition, driving the release of cortisol, finding ways to cope with and reduce stress in your life is imperative when seeking to lower cortisol levels. 

But, stress relief is different for each and every person. So, it may take a few attempts at trying new things when it comes to seeking out methods for reducing stress and promoting relaxation in your life. 

We’ll give a list of proven methods to reduce stress in a moment, but this isn’t a one size fits all approach. For instance, yoga is a proven method of stress relief, but personally, yoga stresses me out. Go figure, right? 

And, you may find that certain items that have been proven to be successful at relieving stress aren’t right for you either. That’s perfectly fine, just keep searching for ways that fit your personality and lifestyle, providing relief for you personally. 

Some proven stress relieving methods include: 

  • Journaling
  • Talking with a therapist (or even a friend or loved one)
  • Taking long walks in nature
  • Taking a relaxing bath or soak in the tub
  • Reading a book by candlelight
  • Meditation
  • Mindful breathing exercises
  • Yoga
  • Hobbies such as painting or pottery (working with your hands)
  • Physical activity
  • Listening to music

7- Relationships

Healthy, loving relationships with friends, family, and spouses or partners can provide stability in a stressful world. 

Such relationships can be a source of happiness, which can lower cortisol levels. 

And, on the flip side of this, unhealthy relationships can actually raise cortisol levels, with studies showing that even an argument with a spouse can prompt a significant release of cortisol. 

If you are in an unhealthy relationship, even a troublesome or stressful relationship at your workplace, seek to put some healthy boundaries in place to protect your body from elevated cortisol levels due to the stress caused by such a relationship. 

And, spend time with those people who make you smile, laugh, and feel happy. Lean on these loved ones during times of stress, and enjoy each moment in these healthy relationships, even practicing gratitude for such relationships, to lower your cortisol levels. 


8- Pets

Healthy relationships with other humans aren’t the only relationships that can be effective at lowering cortisol levels. 

Relationships with furry friends are also beneficial!

Having a pet to care for has been proven to reduce stress and cortisol levels in a wide range of individuals. 

From reducing distress concerning medical procedures in children, to offering support during socially stressful situations in adults, and providing therapy to nursing home patients, studies have proven pets to be a beneficial choice for many looking to lower their stress (and cortisol) levels. 


9- Diet

Your diet can also play a role in reducing cortisol levels. 

Cutting out foods that are high in processed sugars has been shown to reduce cortisol, while on the flip side of this equation, fueling your body with foods containing natural sugars can also regulate cortisol. 

So, ditch the sodas, cakes, and candies, and instead, reach for fresh fruit, starchy vegetables, or even dark chocolate (like cacao, not dark chocolate Kit Kat bars) for a sweet fix. 

Other foods to include in your diet that have been proven to lower cortisol levels naturally include: 

  • Bananas
  • Pears
  • Probiotic-rich yogurt
  • Whole grains
  • Fatty fish
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

10- Supplementation

As we’ve just seen, diet can address cortisol levels, but when diet alone doesn’t cut it, there are many supplements that have been proven beneficial at lowering cortisol levels as well. 

Fish Oil
Fish oil is one of the most common supplements used to lower cortisol levels as several studies have proven its effectiveness. 

One study showed omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil to be beneficial at lowering cortisol levels in response to stressful tasks undertaken by participants of the study. 

Another study looking at levels of omega-3 fatty acids within participants found those with higher levels also had lower instances of inflammation and lower cortisol levels. 

Rhodiola
Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb that is known for its role in reducing symptoms of depression, and according to research this is thought to occur due to the herb’s ability to lower stress hormone levels. 

Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is another adaptogenic herb that is often used to treat anxiety and stress. One study found that participants taking this herb significantly reduced levels of cortisol over the course of 60 days. 


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