How to Lower Cortisol Levels

November 27, 2020 5 min read

How to Lower Cortisol Levels

Most everyone has heard of cortisol, but you may not realize the far-reaching impacts chronically high levels of cortisol and adrenaline can have within the body.  Did you know high levels of stress hormones can cause weight gain? Anxiety? Depression?  

The impacts of high cortisol can be pretty detrimental when we don’t keep our stressors, and in turn, hormones in check - which is why we are going to cover what tends to cause us to produce high cortisol, it’s pros and cons, and most importantly, how to manage and lower our cortisol levels! 

What is Cortisol? 

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that the body produces from cholesterol in the two adrenal glands located on top of each kidney.  Like we’ve talked about in past blogs, cortisol is a beneficial hormone, when it is produced in the proper amounts.  It regulates energy by assisting in the selection of the proper amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, or fats the body needs to meet the demands we place on it.  

Cortisol also helps regulate blood sugar, metabolism, reduces inflammation, and controls salt and water balance within the body.  This is why when stress gets high, we often retain water weight and can appear ‘bloated’ due to cortisol working to regulate balance.   All of these functions make cortisol a crucial hormone to protect our health  (Source).  

But as we all know, too much of a good thing can turn into a bad situation, and cortisol is no exception.  

What Causes High Cortisol? 

When the body experiences over-production, or chronic production, of cortisol and stress hormones, we run into a host of issues.  Chronically elevated cortisol can hinder our metabolism, and it can even contribute to metabolic syndrome and reduce our ability to lose body fat when dieting because it increases the likelihood to consume high-calorie foods (1).

Like we said, the adrenal glands produce cortisol and adrenaline, but the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland regulate that production (aka the HPA Axis).  They act as our ‘alarm system’ of the body, constantly scanning for problems that may arise to pull us into ‘fight or flight’.  They work to balance the systems, and with chronic stress, you essentially numb that balancing act and then the body works to adapt to imbalance.  Some symptoms to watch out for of chronically high (or low) stress hormones include: 

  • Weight gain or loss 
  • Sugar and caffeine cravings 
  • Digestive stress 
  • Exhaustion/fatigue 
  • Anxiety/depression (this is usually due to depleted cortisol, but heightened adrenaline)
  • Irritability and lightheadedness between meals 
  • Acne or skin rashes
  • Struggling to gain strength, or feeling weak 
  • Loss of or irregular menstrual cycle
  • Loss of sex drive 
  • Joint pain/aches 
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep 

So what causes high cortisol, and ultimately result in the above symptoms? 

  • Poor diet (more processed foods)
  • Poor sleep (less than 7 hours or low quality) 
  • High intensity workouts
  • Stressful job or relationship 
  • Alcohol consumption 
  • Emotional stress and negative self-talk 

I bet we can all relate to far too many of those things on that list.  Acute cortisol production keeps us healthy and safe, chronic cortisol production is where the problem comes in.  

How To Lower Cortisol Levels

Sometimes it can seem like managing stress is a lost-cause with how many things we have going on in life today, but there are actually quite a few easy things you can implement to lower your cortisol levels. 

Maintain a Healthy Diet 

There are a lot of vitamins and nutrients that your body needs to help function under high stress times, and without proper intake of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and protein sources - we make it even harder for our body to manage the cortisol.  Keeping a healthy diet is also important for maintaining a healthy body weight, which in turn often results in more balanced blood sugar and blood cortisol levels. 

Get Better Sleep 

We’ve talked about this quite a bit before on the blog, but when we don’t get adequate sleep, it not only contributes to high cortisol levels, but also causes higher hunger hormone levels, dysregulated blood sugar, and you become more likely to store body-fat.  

There are tons of ways you can improve sleep, which we’ve talked about in detail in our Circadian Rhythm blog, but some easy ones are getting into bed at the same time each night, stopping caffeine at 12pm each day, remove blue light and screens 1-2 hours before bed, and get more regular sunlight and movement during the day!  

Utilize Relaxation Techniques 

Many people think of meditation as the only ‘relaxation’ technique, and although meditation is a great self-awareness tool to work on mitigating stress and reducing it’s impact, there are also other easy ways to relax.  

  • Taking 10 big deep breaths multiple times a day - this technique has been shown by research to reduce cortisol levels by up to 40% when done consistently (Source)!
  • Getting a massage 
  • Low intensity yoga/stretching 
  • Going for a walk in nature 
  • Laughing - It is actually impossible to laugh and have anxiety in the same moment, so finding more ways to laugh and find joy in your days can be really helpful! 

Supplementing for Stress with Top Notch

There are quite a few nutrients and vitamins that can become depleted when we are stressed, so supporting those that help buffer stress within our body is a great start.  

  • Vitamin C - This helps with tissue repair, allergy resistance and is required for the creation of all the adrenal hormones. The adrenal glands are actually the largest storage tank of vitamin C in the entire body and they burn through vitamin C rather quickly during times of stress.  A delicious way to support Vitamin C consumption is our HYDRATE product, which makes water more tasty and helpful than regular water.  
  • B-Vitamins (Specifically B1, B5, and B6) - These all play important roles in our metabolism of food and how it converts to ATP, the body’s primary cellular energy source.  They also support detoxification, hormone production, and promote healthy glucose levels.   
  • Ashwagandha - This herb is not something our body creates, but it can most definitely support the body under times of stress.  It is a superstar when it comes to helping a person deal with insomnia that may be caused by stress. It is great for helping to improve a person’s cognitive ability and memory as it helps in restoring the synapses in the brain and it improves the nerve-signaling pathways and then lastly it is great for helping a person in reducing many of the negative effects of anxiety.  This is why we include it in our BURN supplement to help support lower stress and improved body composition.  

Stress can unfortunately be a big roadblock when it comes to our goals and progress either in the gym or with our body-composition, so ensuring you’re managing your stress and cortisol levels should be a top priority.  

 

RESOURCES:

  1. Dallman, M. F., Fleur, S. E., Pecoraro, N. C., Gomez, F., Houshyar, H., & Akana, S. F. (2004). Minireview: Glucocorticoids—Food Intake, Abdominal Obesity, and Wealthy Nations in 2004. Endocrinology, 145(6), 2633-2638. doi:10.1210/en.2004-0037

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

x