Cortisol is a steroid hormone responsible for the management of stress in the body. High levels of this hormone can unknowingly result in a series of health issues like weight gain, depression, and more. So here we discuss the various ways to lower cortisol levels naturally. Read ahead.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal or pituitary glands in your body. It works with your brain in order to regulate your mood, behavior, and feelings and is most popularly known for inducing the “fight-or-flight” response in your body.
Cortisol is also important for the management of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in your body. Research conducted in the University of Florida suggests that cortisol is also a potent anti-inflammatory agent which works by regulating the blood glucose levels in your body.
But what happens when the brain process involved in the release of this hormone gets disrupted? It overproduces cortisol and triggers a series of issues that affect your health. This overproduction is either caused by constantly being in highly stressful situations or sometimes due to the growth of a tumor in the adrenal or pituitary gland of your body. Excessive cortisol can lead to weight gain, brain fog, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and a decreased sex drive among other health issues, making the regulation of this hormone all the more important.
How to Lower Cortisol Levels Naturally?
There are many natural and healthy ways to lower cortisol levels in your body. They include the management of stress, following a healthier diet, improving sleep, taking up relaxing hobbies and activities, and exercising regularly among others. Let’s take a detailed look at them below.
One of the most important factors in managing the cortisol levels in your body is stress. If you find yourself struggling with stress ever so often, try to identify the stress-inducing situations and make a conscious effort to remove yourself from them, whenever possible. Either that or you adopt some techniques to better cope with stress or anxiety.
- Journaling: You can try keeping a gratitude journal or a photo-journal to help you de-stress. You can also maintain a diary to write your day-to-day feelings. Research published in the Psychoneuroendocrinology journal, conducted on 28 people, studied the effects of writing about stressful and happy memories on the cortisol levels in the body. The study results revealed that those who wrote about their past stressful events showed an increase in their stress hormone levels, whereas, those who wrote about past happy memories showed comparatively decreased levels.
- Mindfulness: You can also try mindfulness as a strategy to reduce stress. This can be done by being more conscious and accepting of your stress-provoking thoughts and behaviors and can be used as a replacement for worry and anxiety. This way, you become an observer of your thoughts rather than being their victim.
- Making Time for Self-Care: You can also take up a hobby, adopt a pet, or just take a walk on the grass every day to regulate your cortisol levels.
Sleep is paramount to both your physical and mental health. A study published in the journal Sleep reveals that the amount and quality of sleep you get can both have significant effects on the stress-hormone levels in your body. It shows results which suggest that sleep deprivation or insomnia, with time, can cause a gradual increase in your cortisol levels. Studies also reveal that sleep interruptions, even for a brief period, can still raise the cortisol levels in your body.
If you are facing difficulty sleeping, there are a few ways you can deal with it. You can exercise to drain excess energy out of your system and sleep on time. As per NIH, you may also want to avoid caffeine and extreme light exposure post five in the evening. Other things that you can do for better sleep include using earplugs, avoiding usage of the phone right before you hit the bed, reading a book, and using white noise as a stimulant to sleep.
Adopting a Healthier Diet
It goes without saying that nutrition plays an important role in influencing your mood and feelings, which implies that it has a direct impact on your stress-hormone levels. Say, for instance, sugar; sugar is considered a cortisol-trigger in the body, as per data collected through various studies. It is said that regularly consuming large amounts of sugar keeps your cortisol levels high, thereby increasing your chances of obesity and other high-cortisol-related health conditions. Suffice it to say we now know why desserts are popularly known as comfort food.
However, there are some foods which can help you with your stress-hormone levels. These include dark chocolate, fruits like bananas and pears, black tea, prebiotics and probiotics like kimchi and yogurt.
You should also drink ample amounts of water as it helps prevent dehydration. According to research published in the health journal Physiology, dehydration can increase the levels of this hormone in your body.
This may come as a surprise but exercising intensely can actually lead to a short term increase in your cortisol levels. According to the Harvard Health journal, when you exercise, make sure that you do just the right amount and try not to over-work yourself. Having said that, while you may experience a trigger in your stress hormone levels initially, it goes down later in the day. This is thought to help you with the growth and development of your body.
Maintaining Healthy Relationships
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology says that the kind of relationship that you share with your family and friends can play an influential role in the regulation of your stress-hormone levels. A loving and healthy relationship with the people close to you can help you lead a happier and more content life compared to a love-hate or toxic relationship with the same people. An unhealthy relationship can cause stress, and stress can directly lead to increased cortisol levels. The same study also showed that children who grew up in a stressful environment at home had a higher level of cortisol than those who grew up in a happy environment.
Another study published in 2016 in the Journal of Hormones and Behavior revealed that arguments also lead to a rise in the stress-hormone levels. On the other hand, people with higher empathy and affection and lower conflict showed a better and more regulated release in their cortisol levels.
Research suggests that fish oil and ashwagandha have the ability to reduce the stress-hormone levels in the body. Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which is what is thought to help with stress, thereby reducing cortisol. Ashwagandha, on the other hand, is an herbal supplement that is used to treat anxiety among people. A study published in the NIH suggests that 125 mg of ashwagandha supplement can help reduce the cortisol levels, although further research is still required on this.
It is very important to keep a check on your raising cortisol levels as they can have a severe impact on your body. In extreme cases, high cortisol levels can also lead to conditions like Cushing’s disease. The above-mentioned simple lifestyle habits or changes can help ensure you stay healthy, happy, and stress-free — and with that, regulated cortisol levels.