Supplements to Reduce Cortisol – An Exploration of Stress & How to Get Hold of It

Supplements to Reduce Cortisol – An Exploration of Stress & How to Get Hold of It

Would you say that you are stressed fairly regularly? Stress often becomes an unpleasant companion, impacting us across different life aspects – be it through work, societal pressures, or personal relationships. Our bodies respond to stress through the intricate interplay of hormones, with cortisol taking center stage. Unfortunately, chronic elevation of cortisol levels can lead to health problems and certain side effects. In this article, CARE explores stress science and delves into the biology of cortisol, explaining its effects on your body and well-being. We will also reveal powerful insights and supplements to lower cortisol and master stress. From ancient adaptogens like ashwagandha to modern insights on gut health, we give you, our reader, a silver lining and empower you with a holistic approach to reducing your cortisol levels.

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE
Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach

Published in Nutrition
9 min read · Jan 27, 2024

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Table of content

What Is Cortisol? — The Stress Hormone

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Cortisol, often dubbed the “stress hormone,” is a steroid hormone synthesized from cholesterol. Cortisol is intricately involved in your body's response to stress and its overall regulation. [1]

Produced by the adrenal glands, which are situated on top of each kidney, cortisol synthesis and secretion are primarily governed by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a complex feedback system. The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis regulates both the production and secretion of cortisol. [1]

The process begins with the release of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) from the hypothalamus, prompting the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH then stimulates the adrenal glands to produce and release cortisol into the bloodstream.

But what exactly does cortisol do there?

What Does Cortisol Do?

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Cortisol is widely known to be the “stress hormone,” but in fact, it plays a role in many physiological processes in your body. Cortisol is a fundamental component of your body's homeostatic mechanisms. Homeostatic mechanisms refer to the physiological processes and regulatory systems within your body that work to maintain a stable and balanced internal environment despite external changes, influences, or fluctuations. [1]

One of Cortisol’s primary functions is to mobilize energy stores during times of stress. When faced with a perceived threat or stressor, cortisol promotes the breakdown of glycogen into glucose, providing your body with a rapid source of energy. This heightened glucose availability ensures that vital organs, such as your brain and muscles, receive the necessary fuel to respond to the stressor effectively. This stress response results in several physiological processes, like increased breathing, sweating, and a faster heartbeat, referred to as the fight-or-flight response. [1]

But cortisol can do more than that.

Moreover, cortisol acts as a potent immunomodulator, regulating immune function and suppressing inflammation. In acute stress situations, this anti-inflammatory effect can be beneficial. However, chronic elevation of cortisol levels may compromise immune defenses, rendering your body more susceptible to certain infections and illnesses. [1]

Cortisol also influences your metabolism, regulating blood pressure and assisting in the maintenance of electrolyte balance. Additionally, it exhibits diurnal variation, with levels typically peaking in the early morning to help promote wakefulness and reaching their lowest point around midnight to facilitate your body's transition into restful sleep. [1]

As you can see, cortisol is a multifaceted hormone that orchestrates your body's response to stress while exerting profound effects on various physiological systems. Its intricate interplay within the HPA axis highlights its significance in maintaining internal balance and adapting to environmental challenges. [1]

Understanding the biological vastness of the influence that cortisol levels have on your body underpins its importance for your overall health and well-being.

So, what effect do high levels of cortisol have on your body?

Effects of High Cortisol Levels on the Body

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While cortisol is essential for your survival and adaptation to stressors, chronic elevation of cortisol levels can have detrimental effects on your body.

You may ask yourself, “How does it feel if I have high cortisol levels?”.

Well, cortisol puts your body in a state of alertness. Therefore, you may feel agitated, have a racing heart, and might even be thirsty or have weak muscles if your high cortisol persists for a prolonged time.

We have summarized some of the potential consequences of chronic stress or prolonged high cortisol levels for you:

Susceptibility to Infections – Impaired Immune Function

Elevated cortisol levels can suppress your immune system, making your body more susceptible to infections and illnesses. [2]

Weight Gain – Metabolic Disruptions

Chronically elevated cortisol can also contribute to weight gain, especially around the abdominal area, as well as insulin resistance, potentially leading to conditions like type 2 diabetes. [3]

Having Bad Sleep & Sleep Disturbances

Cortisol imbalances can disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle, leading to difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep. Good Sleep is crucial for your overall mental and physical well-being, which is why you should avoid high cortisol levels for the sake of good sleep. [4]

Mood and Cognitive Effects

High cortisol levels have been associated with increased anxiety, depression, and impaired cognitive function, including memory and concentration issues and brain fog. Excess cortisol can, therefore, impair your cognitive performance and lead to negative effects on your brain health. [5]

By now, it is probably apparent to you that you should keep your cortisol levels within a healthy and normal range.

But how can you do this?

The 7 Best Supplements to Reduce Cortisol

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Certain dietary supplements have demonstrated the potential to lower cortisol levels by influencing the pathways of our body's stress response. These natural supplements work by modulating the activity of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a crucial regulator of stress hormones, or by contributing to cortisol regulation.

CARE has curated some of the most efficient supplements to control cortisol levels that help you promote overall stress resilience.

Ashwagandha – A Native Plant From India

Ashwagandha, derived from the roots of the Withania somnifera plant native to India, is an adaptogenic herb renowned in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for its stress-relieving properties and pharmacological actions. [6]

Studies suggest that ashwagandha can lower cortisol levels, improve stress resilience, and enhance overall well-being. [6]

Adaptogens – “Magical” Herbs

Adaptogens are a class of herbs that can help your body adapt to stressors. In addition to ashwagandha, other adaptogens such as Rhodiola rosea and Holy Basil (Tulsi) have shown promise in reducing cortisol levels and mitigating the impact of stress. [6]

Magnesium – A Powerful Mineral

Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in various physiological processes in your body, including the regulation of cortisol. Adequate magnesium levels have been linked to lower stress and anxiety, making it a valuable supplement for cortisol management. [7]

L-Theanine – More Tea, please!

Found in tea leaves like green tea, L-theanine is an amino acid that promotes relaxation without causing drowsiness. It can help you reduce your cortisol levels and improve your overall mood by enhancing alpha brain wave activity. If you are big on coffee, you might want to switch one or two coffees for a cup of green tea instead. [8]

Vitamin B12 & Vitamin C

There are also some vitamins to lower cortisol. Vitamin B12, folic acid, and Vitamin C can also help support the metabolism of cortisol. [9]

Probiotics – Beneficial Bacteria for Your Gut Microbiome

Did you know that your gut sort of works like a second brain? The gut-brain connection is increasingly recognized, and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is crucial for your stress levels. Probiotics, which promote a balanced gut flora, can influence cortisol levels by supporting overall gut health. [10]

Probiotics are live microorganisms, primarily beneficial bacteria that confer health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts. These microorganisms, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, are found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, as well as in dietary supplements.

Probiotics work by enhancing and maintaining a balanced and diverse gut microbiome, which is important for your digestive health and, consequently, your overall well-being. They contribute to the population of beneficial bacteria in the gut and can help in improving immune function, nutrient absorption, and even mental health. [10]

Prebiotics – Non-digestible Fibers

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are non-digestible fibers or compounds found in certain foods that promote the activity and growth of beneficial bacteria already present in the colon. They serve as a food source for the existing beneficial bacteria in the gut. Common sources of prebiotics include foods rich in soluble fiber, like onions, garlic, bananas, and certain whole grains. [11]

By fostering the growth of beneficial bacteria, prebiotics contribute to a healthy gut microbiome, which, in turn, supports digestion, nutrient absorption, and the production of short-chain fatty acids with various health benefits. Therefore, a healthy gut environment is associated with improved mental well-being. Furthermore, prebiotics have been proven to reduce the waking cortisol response. [11]

Aside from supplements to reduce cortisol, there are some other options and tactics to tackle your high cortisol.

Get A Grip on Your Stress – Other Options For Stress Relief

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Luckily, there are plenty of options for relieving yourself from stress, allowing your cortisol levels to drop and normalize again.

CARE has summarized some promising practices that can help you achieve stress relief.

Sport & Physical Activity

Regular exercise is a potent stress-reducer, promoting the release of endorphins and helping to balance cortisol levels. Engage in activities like walking, jogging, or yoga to lower your cortisol levels naturally. [12]

Mindfulness and Meditation

Practices such as mindfulness meditation have been shown to lower cortisol levels and improve stress resilience. Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routines can positively impact your overall well-being. [12]

Good & Adequate Sleep

High-quality sleep is crucial for cortisol regulation. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and optimizing sleep hygiene can contribute to reducing your stress levels. [12]

Eating Healthy – A Balanced Nutrition

A well-balanced diet rich in nutrient-dense foods provides your body with the necessary resources to cope with stress. Including foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and complex carbohydrates can support your general health. [12]

Try Forest Bathing

Forest bathing, also known as Shinrin-Yoku in Japan, is a therapeutic practice that involves immersing yourself in nature, typically in a forest or another lush natural environment. This mindful and intentional connection with nature has been shown to lower cortisol levels. [13]

The practice encourages you to engage your senses fully, absorbing the sights, sounds, and scents of the natural surroundings, leading to a state of relaxation and reduced physiological stress responses.

CARE Empowers You to Take Charge of Your Health

CARE members get a profound insight into their overall health status through their regular Health Check-ups and in-depth blood analysis. Our comprehensive assessment allows us to provide you with individual and personal guidance on the results of your Health Check-up.

The biomarkers in your blood can show you how high your cortisol levels are and if stress might be a component in your life that you should adjust to prevent any potential health problems in the future.

Take your health into your own hands and optimize your overall wellness and fitness with CARE! Let’s start your health journey today.

List of References

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE

Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach at CARE Zurich

About the author

Elena is an enthusiastic Health Coach and blog writer at CARE, with a passion for holistic medicine and health. Previously, Elena worked for almost five years as a coach leading retreats, workshops, and seminars. These included mind-body therapy: breath work, meditation, and massage; as well as energy force therapy: reiki, and qi gong; and third expressive therapy: movement, writing and support groups. Elena shares exciting articles on the blog, on the topic of where the alternative and traditional medicine intersect with Western Medicine. Elena is also the driving force behind the CARE community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling to remote locations and dancing. You might also see her on the lake of Zurich as a coast guard. Join her on her journey to learn more about health and discover the world of preventive medicine! Visit all articles written by Elena!