Everyone has been stressed at some point. But, you are here because you’ve been stressed for a while. Your doctor says your cortisol levels are high, and now you want to know what you should do. The good news is, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to lower your cortisol levels. There are some foods that lower cortisol levels. They do so because of their nutritional profile. Specifically, foods with high amounts of vitamin C, tryptophan and quercetin are good for lowering cortisol levels. Here is everything you need to know about foods that lower cortisol levels and other lifestyle changes you can make for your wellbeing.
What Is The Deal With Cortisol?
Think of cortisol as a natural alarm system. When you encounter a stressful situation such as the dog barking, the system is activated. The hypothalamus in the brain signals the adrenal glands located on the kidneys’ upper part to release adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline is the fight or flight hormone, while cortisol is the stress hormone. Cortisol increases glucose levels in the bloodstream, heightens the brain’s ability to use glucose, and avails substances for tissue repair. Cortisol also numbs unimportant functions that would interfere with the fight or flight process.
Your body needs this hormone to run daily functions. When you wake up or exercise, the body releases the average cortisol levels for blood sugar, pressure, and heart muscle strengthening. Research shows small doses of the hormone have several benefits, including boosting memory, heightening the immune system, and reducing pain sensitivity (9).
Consistently high cortisol levels are associated with high-stress levels. What causes the increase of this hormone in the body? Increased exposure to stressful situations is mainly to blame. Modern life is full of stressors. Many people start their day by waking up early to see kids off to school and then work. You get stuck in a traffic jam for hours and receive a thorough scolding from your boss. Other situations that raise stress levels include sickness of a loved one, accumulation of unpaid bills, an unhealthy relationship, and even lack of enough sleep.
How Do You Know That Your Body Is Producing High Cortisol Levels?
Prolonged exposure to elevated cortisol levels has various signs depending on what is causing the increased levels. Generally, watch out for the following symptoms:
- Low libido for both men and women, irregular ovulation or periods in women, and erectile dysfunction in men
- Insomnia due to poor sleep
- Rounding of the face and increased weight gain in the lower abdomen
- High blood pressure
- Decreased concentration
- Anxiety, depression, frequent mood swings, and irritability
- Thinning and easily bruised skin
- Slow healing skin
- Increased fatigue and poor fatigue recovery
- Gut problems, such as diarrhoea, bloating, and constipation.
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Reasons Why You Need To Lower Extreme Cortisol Levels
Everything good has its downside, especially when administered in high doses. And high levels of cortisol will no doubt produce negative results. Here is why you need to lower extreme cortisol levels:
High levels of cortisol in the blood stimulate the production of more insulin to allow glucose to be utilized as energy. Continuously elevated cortisol may be associated with chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes (2). Other chronic complications include osteoporosis and high blood pressure.
Weakened Immune System
It interferes with your immune system exposing you to a higher risk of infections such as cold and other infectious diseases.
Cortisol triggers the need for more glucose in the body. Consequently, you will feel hungry, eat more food. Excess food metabolizes into fat.
Cortisol brings insomnia by disrupting the functioning of other hormones and sleep patterns causing extreme fatigue.
Interestingly, eating certain foods and supplements can help lower your cortisol levels.
Here we go.
Foods That Lower Cortisol Levels
One cup of this diuretic vegetable contains about two-thirds of the folic acid that your body requires daily. Low levels of folic acid can make you feel anxious, while high levels of this nutrient fight depression. Additionally, asparagus is a natural source of tryptophan, an amino acid that stimulates serotonin production. More serotonin in your body lifts your mood. And to top it off, these green stalks are a source of vitamin C.
One cup of these little blue bullets contains 24% of your vitamin C daily value and other potent antioxidants. Studies indicate that regular intake of blueberries lowers oxidative stress and provides your body with cytokines that have anti-inflammatory properties (3). Apart from satiating your hunger pangs, blueberries boost mental abilities, burn belly fat, help your heart by lowering blood pressure, and fight free radicals that cause cancer. Add blueberries to your next smoothie, and you will not regret it.
One cup of mango contains 60mg of vitamin C. This tasty fruit has more than 12 variations of polyphenols. Mangiferin, a polyphenol, is a super antioxidant. Mangiferin is extremely useful in preventing certain types of cancer (1) since it fights oxidative stress in the body. Mango helps lower stress levels and contributes to a healthy heart, eyes, and proper digestion.
Did you know that smelling the tropical scent of orange soothes the mind, thus lowering stress levels by nearly 70%? With 117% DV, orange is an all-time source of vitamin C, adequate amounts of fibre, and potassium. Cancer-fighting citrus limonoids add to the richness of this irresistible fruit.
Read More: 13 Essential Vitamins: A Comprehensive Guide
Whole Grain and Fortified Cereal
This trick is for those who find it hard to incorporate fruits into their diet. Fortified cereal has many essential nutrients; for example, chillaxing vitamin C. Whole grains will leave you feeling full longer since they digest slowly. Slow digestion releases a steady stream of serotonin, the happy hormone. They also stabilize blood sugar by curbing sharp drops and spikes that could make you irritable. Whole grains also belong to a category of foods that help balance hormones like cortisol and estrogen. A bowl of oatmeal is not so bad for breakfast.
Greens are one of the vegan foods that lower cortisol. Greens leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach are a host to lots of nutrients. Kale boasts 133% of your daily intake volume and twice the recommended amount of vitamin C. Tender mustard spinach also provides you with vitamin C. Studies have shown that low magnesium levels may be associated with anxiety (8). A cup of collard greens will give you 35% magnesium and vitamin K. Toss some greens in your next salad.
Papaya is the undeclared champion in circulatory system health. It is rich in lycopene and antioxidant that prevents oxidation of cholesterol that narrows the arteries. This action lowers hypertension that harms artery walls. Some people often ignore this fruit that contains enormous amounts of vitamin C. Vitamin C increases your ability to handle stress and reduce irritability. The next time you feel stressed, make a delicious papaya salad, lemon juice, diced walnuts, powdered cumin, watercress, and salt.
A single cup of cooked broccoli contains 125mg of vitamin C. Research shows vitamin C is indispensable in lowering and reducing anxiety (4). Apart from vitamins, C broccoli is full of sulforaphane, an anti-cancer agent that raises testosterone and reduces body fats’ storage—tired of stress? Remember to add diced broccoli to your pasta dishes and salad—season parboiled broccoli with garlic and virgin olive oil.
Pineapples are healthy nourishment owing to high amounts of nutrients and antioxidants. Antioxidants act against free radicals, effectively combating oxidative stress. Bromelain, a digestive enzyme in pineapples, gives you anti-inflammatory qualities (6) and eases digestion. Added to this are 131% vitamin C and 76% manganese per serving, which aids blood regulation and overall metabolism. Have a piece of pineapple for dessert, or add it to your favourite smoothie.
Olive oil has many compounds, one of them being oleuropein which may reduce cortisol in your body. It has been in use for many centuries. It has anti-inflammatory properties and was used to dress wounds in some cultures. Use extra virgin olive oil to top your salad.
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According to a recent study, a diet high in potassium helped in neutralizing depression symptoms and easing muscle tension in the test subjects. Bananas contain potassium, vitamin B6 and magnesium. These components keep your adrenaline from soaring to harmful levels. Your body converts tryptophan, a protein found in bananas, into serotonin, the feel-good chemical, thus lifting your moods. Bananas can fit into almost everything, including snacks, breakfast, and smoothies.
Probiotic Foods That Lower Cortisol
Probiotic-rich food, including sauerkraut, kimchi, and yoghurt, improves your digestion. Yoghurt can lower emotional brain activity. Sauerkraut enhances food absorption, which reduces the stress that comes with indigestion. The body will also get magnesium and zinc, which are vital factors in mood regulation. Kimchi comes packed with lots of vitamins such as vitamin A, B1, B2, and vitamin C.
Among foods that help lower cortisol levels are onions. Phytochemicals found in onions enhance the vitamin C-cortisol-reducing action in your body. Added to phytochemicals are flavonoids that kill cancer cells and quercetin. Quercetin is released when exposed to prolonged stress to prevent the release of enzymes that trigger cortisol release. Count it all joy when you cry chopping onions.
Egg contains choline, a nutrient that improves how your brain functions, and omega-3s. They also possess an amino acid called tryptophan that causes the release of serotonin. Tryptophan ensures you don’t feel hungry more than is necessary, thus reducing stress. You can combine boiled eggs with tomato and onion salad. Remember, an egg a day keeps the stress away.
Quinoa is a combination of complete protein and composite carbohydrates. Eating quinoa will steady your blood sugar levels and enhance your energy. Quinoa, like whole grains, curbs the spike of blood sugar, reducing irritability and keeping you focused.
Apart from eating, you can also make lifestyle changes.
How To Lower Cortisol With Lifestyle Changes?
There are several science-backed lifestyle changes you can make to lower your cortisol levels. Here is a list.
Be Conscious And Deliberately Mindful
The first step to treating a problem is knowing the cause. Know your triggers. What causes you to feel stressed? Knowing the trigger will help you recognize the issue before it even starts. Avoid all stressful experiences if possible.
Mindfulness also entails being conscious of your thoughts. Stress reduction strategy based on mindfulness entails knowing stress-provoking thoughts. An example is substituting anxiety with focus and understanding. In this way, you will nip stress in the bud, thus preventing further escalation.
Mental awareness will help you become an objective observer during stress instead of the injured party.
Get Quality Sleep
Quality and hours of sleep play a key role in lowering cortisol levels. Sleep deprivation can dramatically increase your stress levels. Your body requires at least 6 hours of sleep for proper rest and body function, and you should try to meet that minimum requirement. Meeting daily sleep requirements is as simple as avoiding taking caffeine a few hours before bed, switching off your lights before bed, and avoiding other sleep distractions.
If you have a tight work schedule that allows a few hours of sleep, you can try napping. Taking short naps during the day will make you less sleepy and reduce your sleep deficit.
Read More: Meditation For Insomnia: Best Techniques To Ensure A Good Night’s Sleep
Happiness positively affects the body in several ways. It lowers cortisol levels leading to a water-tight immune system, lower blood pressure, and regular heart rate. Do things that satisfy you and bring laughter. A study shows that cortisol levels decreased with the amount of laughter. It makes sense, considering one tends to forget all their problems when having fun. You forget even the passing of time!
Fun is relative since everyone knows their recipe for happiness. But general activities such as dancing, humming along to your favourite tune, skiing, and other sports makes fun.
Take Care Of Your Spirituality
Studies show that people who develop and demonstrate faith tend to have lower cortisol levels even under prolonged exposure to stress. People who pray often have lower levels of depression and anxiety. The point here is easy to see since instead of being overwhelmed by current happiness, we tend to believe that something better will happen or some superior being will help us.
A disclaimer here is that spirituality does not necessarily imply religion. You can reap the same benefits through acts of kindness, meditation, and being part of a social support group.
Get Positive Physical Contact
It is advisable to get physical contact such as cuddling, sex, kissing, and hugging whenever possible since it can help neutralize stress. Having physical contact with someone you love triggers the release of oxytocin, a cortisol antagonist. Oxytocin also helps lower blood pressure, thus relieving tension. Cuddling for stress relief has also been observed in our closest cousins, the chimpanzees.
Supplements That Lower Cortisol
In addition to food and lifestyle adjustments, nutritional supplements can also help lower cortisol levels. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have been linked to decreasing cortisol levels and boosting overall brain function.
Ashwagandha or winter cherry has been shown in tests to reduce perceived stress scores by 44%and cortisol by 28% (5). The Indian ginseng is available in powder form and is added to foods, beverages, and shakes.
Finally, clinical trials suggest that arctic roots can significantly lower cortisol levels resulting from chronic stress (7).This magic root can also increase dopamine and serotonin, which substantially improves your mood. It is more of an energizer than a sedative.
The Bottom Line
Your body needs a little cortisol for normal metabolic functions such as converting sugars and aiding the fight or flight hormone. High levels of cortisol in the body usually indicate prolonged stress—chronic complications, such as high blood pressure, resulting from high cortisol concentrations in the body. But you can keep your body healthy by lowering the concentrations. You can achieve lower cortisol levels by eating foods that reduce cortisol. Changes to your basic lifestyle can do you a lot of good. Food supplements such as ashwagandha can also aid in the process of lowering high cortisol levels.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Antioxidant activity of the mangiferin inclusion complex with β-cyclodextrin (2013, sciencedirect.com)
- Clinical review: Diagnosis and treatment of subclinical hypercortisolism (2011, pubmed.gov)
- Effect of blueberry ingestion on natural killer cell counts, oxidative stress, and inflammation prior to and after 2.5 h of running (2011, pubmed.gov)
- Effects of Oral Vitamin C Supplementation on Anxiety in Students: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial (2015, pubmed.gov)
- Flavonoids exhibit diverse effects on CYP11B1 expression and cortisol synthesis (2012, pubmed.gov)
- Properties and therapeutic application of bromelain: a review (2012, pubmed.gov)
- Rhodiola Rosea: Everything You Need To Know About This Adaptogen (2020, mindbodygreen.com)
- The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress—A Systematic Review (2017, pubmed.gov)
- What Is Cortisol? (2021, verywellmind.com)