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Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by your adrenal glands, which are endocrine glands on top of your kidneys. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and has many functions in the body since it can exert its effect on almost every organ system. (1)
Cortisol affects various functions in the body, such as regulating the stress response. (1) Your body secretes cortisol in response to stress.
Stress triggers the release of the “fight or flight response” hormone adrenaline, followed by cortisol. This ensures that you stay on high alert. In addition, cortisol facilitates the release of glucose from the liver (2) so that energy is available for combating stress.
Cortisol also acts as an anti-inflammatory, (3) regulates your sleep-wake cycle, (4) and performs many more functions.
Hence, optimum cortisol levels are necessary to maintain the efficient functioning of different body organs. Having high levels or low levels of cortisol can disrupt the overall functioning of your body.
High levels of cortisol cause a reduction in glucose utilization by the body, production of low levels of growth hormone, osteoporosis, depression, (5) and sleep disorders. (6) Increased levels of cortisol can also cause Cushing’s syndrome and Addison’s disease. (1)
How to Reduce Cortisol Levels Naturally
Here are the different ways to reduce high cortisol levels naturally.
1. Practice deep breathing
Breathing exercises are very effective in improving organ function, controlling your physiological and psychological well-being, and reducing stress.
A 2017 study conducted on human volunteers and reported in Frontiers in Psychology, has shown that breathing exercises caused a decrease in salivary cortisol levels. (7)
Another study conducted in 2021 and reported in Cyprus Journal of Medical Sciences has shown that deep breathing exercises reduced levels of cortisol and induced relaxation (8)
2. Listen to relaxing music
Music is a good and inexpensive stress buster for people of all ages. Listening to music has a positive impact on various systems of the body. It improves immunity, reduces stress, and, in general, gives a feeling of well-being to the listener.
The positive effect of music in reducing stress in children has been studied by measuring a decrease in salivary cortisol levels. (9)
Another study reported in 2011 in Frontiers in Psychology that listening to music during surgery under regional anesthesia lowered cortisol levels and reduced sedative requirements. (10)
3. Exercise regularly
All forms of exercise, be it brisk walking, aerobic exercises, or yoga, function as stress busters and cause a lowering of cortisol levels.
A 2014 study published in Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience reported a lowering of cortisol levels after acute resistance exercise. (11)
Another study shared that yoga had a significant and direct influence on cortisol response that correlated with yoga’s antidepressant effects. (12)
4. Garden and read
Both gardening and reading distract you from stress and thinking about stressful situations.
Though both these activities are good stress relievers and lead to a lowering of cortisol levels, gardening has a greater positive effect and better cortisol-lowering effect, according to a study published in 2011 in the Journal of Health Psychology. (13)
5. Have a massage
Massage therapy alters the physiology and biochemistry of your body and lowers stress. A touch massage will do wonders for decreasing stress.
In fact, a 2010 study published in Autonomic Neuroscience reported a significant decrease in cortisol levels after a 5-minute touch massage. (14)
So, next time you feel stressed, pamper yourself with a touch massage given by a professional.
6. Have a hearty laugh
Laughter has been shown to reduce the bioactivity of cortisol, and thus it functions as a stress buster, according to a report published in 2021 in Current Research in Physiology. (15)
An earlier study conducted on student nurses in Korea in 2019 also reported the stress-busting effect of laughter by lowering cortisol levels. (16)
7. Pet animals
Meaningful interactions with pets reduce cortisol levels and also increase the level of the “feel-good hormone” oxytocin.
A 10-minute Animal Visitation Program (AVP) reported that petting animals, either cats or dogs, resulted in a lowering of salivary cortisol levels in students. (14)
Another study revealed that interacting with dogs led to a reduction in cortisol levels in both normal children and special children. (17)
8. Increase magnesium intake
A dietary deficiency of magnesium has been related to stress disorders. High levels of stress, in turn, lead to magnesium deficiency, thus forming a vicious circle. (18) Maintaining normal levels of magnesium is thus a good way to combat stress.
Eat magnesium-rich foods such as bananas, avocados, almonds, legumes, and leafy greens such as spinach to combat stress.
9. Increase green tea consumption
Polyphenols are a class of compounds found in green tea that have many health benefits. The ability of polyphenols to lower cortisol levels reduces stress. Hence, when you feel stressed out sipping a cup of warm green tea would help you relax.
A 2022 report of a study conducted on stuttering adolescents showed a significant reduction in cortisol levels upon consumption of about 6 glasses of green tea in a day. (19)
10. Consume ashwagandha
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a popular Ayurvedic herb known for its adaptogenic properties. It produces a class of compounds called glycowithanolides, which have a calming effect on the brain.
Ashwagandha has cortisol-lowering effects, as reported in a 2019 clinical trial wherein human volunteers taking 240 mg of ashwagandha daily over 8 weeks claimed a 23% reduction in cortisol, whereas the placebo group claimed no such reduction. (20)
Most-Asked Questions About High Cortisol Levels
What do high cortisol levels feel like?
The gastrointestinal tract is very sensitive to cortisol. Hence, high levels of cortisol can lead to heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.
How to lower high levels of cortisol naturally?
In addition to the above, you need to take plenty of rest, have a good sleep, exercise regularly for 30 minutes a day, and adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Can cortisol levels be measured?
Cortisol levels can be measured from a sample of blood. Normally, cortisol levels vary during the day, so doctors sometimes ask for more than one type of test to get more information about your cortisol levels.
In the present-day circumstances given the fast-paced life and the pressure to excel in the rat race, stress is inevitable. High levels of stress translate into high levels of cortisol.
Reducing stress means a reduction of cortisol levels, which can be achieved by a multipronged approach combining a healthy lifestyle with adequate sleep and regular exercise.
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