Lower your cortisol through healthy habits

November 26, 2019
People who are under a lot of stress may have chronically high cortisol levels. But there are measures you can take to help regulate this hormone and its symptoms.

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. There are two factors that control its release. Firstly, it’s a response to stress. Secondly, the level of glucocorticoids in the blood are lower than usual.

Cortisol functions

Cortisol has various functions in the body:

  • It increases blood sugar levels
  • And, metabolizes fats, carbohydrates and proteins.
  • Also, it suppresses the immune system

High cortisol, stress, and overweight

Weight gain and high cortisol: a woman measuring her waist

Our brain has different mechanisms in place for responding to high levels of stress and anxiety. One of these is the release of cortisol. When this hormone is released, the blood sugar levels go up and the glucose provides energy to our muscles.

This study published in Revista Chilena de Neuro-psiquiatría emphasizes its relationship with subsequent psychiatric disorders. People undergoing daily stressful situations may develop a condition that incites the chronic release of this hormone. Of course, it has negative consequences, both for our bodies and our minds.

Symptoms of high cortisol

If a person has some of these symptoms, their levels of cortisol may be high:

  • weight gain and fat accumulation in the abdominal area
  • depression
  • high blood pressure
  • anxiety
  • aging
  • weakened muscles
  • drastic changes in appetite: either loss of it or insatiable hunger
  • a desire to consume foods high in salt and sugar
  • emotional changes like anger, irritability, or uncontrollable crying
  • decreased sexual desire
  • difficulty getting over a virus or a cold
  • feeling dizzy upon standing up

There are some natural remedies that can decrease high cortisol and improve the above symptoms. These supplements are very important because the symptoms aren’t only annoying, they could also be very dangerous. It’s for this reason that you should always consult your doctor if you suspect you’re afflicted by this condition.

Healthy diet

Salad with pomegranate seeds.

Weight gain is one of the most visible effects of high cortisol according to this study carried out by Universidad de La Frontera in Chile. It’s important that you watch your diet to treat it as certain foods can be helpful:

  • Food that contains phenylalanine: This substance is an amino acid that stimulates dopamine production. In turn, the dopamine reduces the anxiety that makes you want to eat junk food (sugary and fatty). Dopamine is also related to pleasure. The types of food that are rich in phenylalanine are mainly animal proteins — red meat, eggs, fish and dairy. However, you can also find them in lentils, garbanzo beans and some seeds like peanuts and soy.
  • A Mediterranean diet is an excellent option, both for your diet in general as well as for decreasing high cortisol levels. It is based on fresh, in-season foods. It includes good fats like olive oil as well as fruits and vegetables. The main sources of protein in this kind of diet are meats, seeds, and grains.
  • Omega 3: It has the ability to decrease cortisol levels when they are stress-related. Coldwater fish is an excellent source of omega 3, like sardines and salmon. However, this study by Southern Cross University in Australia denies that omega-3 helps reduce stress.
  • Hydration. Dehydration is one consequence of stress. So, plain water is the best thing you can drink. However, you can also include green tea, an antioxidant. But, eliminate commercial sugary drinks from your diet entirely.

Sleeping enough

Insomnia is a significant risk factor for cortisol production, according to this study by the University of Athens. Also, it worsens other symptoms such as fatigue, and irritability. People with high cortisol must adopt a healthy sleep schedule.

We recommend sleeping in a room at a moderate temperature. That is, not too hot and not too cold. Aim for silence, darkness, and no distracting electronic devices with blue lights that may disturb you.

Relaxing activities

A happy woman with her dog.

Because stress is the main cause of high cortisol, try to do any kind of activity that helps you relax and improves your mood. Try music (as per this study by the Universidad del Desarrollo in Chile), comedy or take the family pet for a walk.

Another idea is to claim time to relax during the day and try not to think about any of your problems. Just close your eyes and listen to some soft music for about 15 minutes — or however long you need to relax.

Exercise

Doing some sort of regular exercise is very important for decreasing stress, according to this study carried out by Dr. Conchita Mir Rodon. It’s also great for muscular problems caused by high cortisol.

You don’t need to do intense exercise. A simple 30-minute daily walk is enough to relax and keep you in good shape.