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Mastering The "Stress Hormone" - Understanding and Managing Cortisol

Mastering The "Stress Hormone" - Understanding and Managing Cortisol

Cortisol, widely known as the “stress hormone” has the primary role of helping the body respond to stress. Although it plays an important role in our body’s fight-or-flight response, irregular levels can cause multiple health issues. In this article, how both low and high cortisol affects people, give brief overview of what causes high levels, and list 10 ways one can manage their cortisol levels. 


  1. Cortisol: Uncovering the Surprising Hormone That Controls Your Body's Stress Response
  2. The Balancing Act: How Irregular Cortisol Levels Can Impact Your Health and Well-being
  3. The Hidden Culprits: Surprising Causes of High Cortisol Levels and How to Combat Them
  4. Take Control of Your Stress: 9 Proven Methods for Managing Your Cortisol Levels

Cortisol: Uncovering the Surprising Hormone That Controls Your Body's Stress Response

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stressful situations. It helps us adjust to changes in our environment and prepares us for potential danger so that we can protect ourselves. This often involves releasing sugar into the bloodstream for energy or increasing the production of white blood cells to fight infection.

The Balancing Act: How Irregular Cortisol Levels Can Impact Your Health and Well-being

Low cortisol can lead to fatigue, poor appetite, weight gain, depression, and difficulty concentrating. When cortisol is present in higher than normal levels, it can cause anxiety, irritability, impaired cognitive function (increasing the difficulty of making decisions), headaches, nausea, dizziness and more. Chronically high cortisol has also been linked to diabetes and heart disease over time.

The Hidden Culprits: Surprising Causes of High Cortisol Levels and How to Combat Them

There are many factors that contribute to elevated cortisol levels. Each person will have their own unique combination of factors contributing to their individual situation, which is why it's important to get tested if you're experiencing any symptoms associated with either low or high cortisol levels.

Some Common Causes Of Elevated Cortisol Levels Include:

  • Stress from work/home life
  • Unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking/drinking
  • Certain medications
  • Chronic illness
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor diet
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Genetics

Take Control of Your Stress: 9 Proven Methods for Managing Your Cortisol Levels

While research is ongoing on this topic—in addition to managing stress—there are other things you can do as well that may help reduce your cortisol levels naturally. Here are 10 tips for managing your cortisol levels:

1) Get enough restful sleep - Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night

  • Getting enough restful sleep is crucial for regulating cortisol levels. According to a study published in the journal Sleep, "short sleep duration and poor sleep quality were both associated with higher evening cortisol levels" (Leproult et al., 1997). In other words, not getting enough quality sleep can lead to higher levels of cortisol in the evening. On the other hand, getting enough restful sleep can help reduce cortisol levels and promote overall health and well-being.
2) Exercise regularly - Low intensity exercises will reduce your "circulating" cortisol levels. Exercising also releases endorphins which help reduce stress.
  • "Low intensity exercise actually resulted in a reduction in circulating cortisol levels." (Hill EE, 2008)
      3) Eat nutrient-dense foods - Eating unprocessed foods like fruits & veggies will provide your body with essential nutrients.
      • “Eating foods such as processed meats, high sugar foods, caffeine and alcohol, which provide little nutritional value, have been associated with more psychiatric symptoms and can increase cortisol levels—our primary hormone responsible for stress,”  states Karen Hemmes, a registered dietitian at Banner- University Madiecal Center. “A diet high in whole foods and low in processed foods can help maintain healthy cortisol levels.”

          4) Don't cut too many calories. If you've ever heard something along the line of "don't starve yourself to lose weight," then someone was giving you sound advice...

          • "Restricting calories increased the total output of cortisol, and monitoring calories increased perceived stress" (Tomiyama AJ, 2010)
          5) Avoid caffeine- I can't believe I'm writing this, as I live for coffee. However, caffeine definitely seems leads to high cortisol levels.
          • "Caffeine also increases cortisol and epinephrine levels both at rest and during periods of stress" (al'Absi and Lovallo, 2004).
          • "The cortisol response to stress varies across individuals" (al'Absi et al., 1997), raising the question of variability in caffeine's effect on cortisol secretion.

              6) Practice relaxation techniques - Meditation & yoga are great options for reducing cortisol, as mentioned in the study below.

              • "The average serum cortisol levels before mindfulness meditation was 381.93 nmol/L (SD 97.74) becoming significantly lower after mindfulness meditation 306.38 nmol/L (SD 90.95)." (Turakitwanakan W, 2013)
              7) Spend time in nature - Going out in nature helps reduce stress hormones
              • "While individuals may select different locations or activities for reducing stress, for many, natural environments may be useful in their attempts to reduce their levels of stress." concludes a study by Alan Ewert and Yun Chang
              8) Take supplements such as magnesium & B vitamins - Many supplements help support healthy adrenal functioning, help in relieving stress, and reducing overall cortisol levels.
              • "Recent evidence suggests that dietary intake of vitamins, in particular the B-vitamins including B6, B9 and B12 may have a number of positive effects on mood and stress." (Camfield DA, 2013)
              9) Seek professional help when needed!
                  • If you're experiencing symptoms associated with irregular cortisol levels, you may consider seeking the advice of a medical professional. This may include a an endocrinologist who can perform tests to assess your cortisol levels and determine if any underlying conditions are contributing to your symptoms. They can also provide personalized recommendations for managing your cortisol levels and improving your overall health. 

                      Bonus Cortisol Reduction Tip: Try taking CBD!

                      Research suggests that CBD may significantly reduce cortisol levels by interacting with the body's endocannabinoid system and regulating stress response. 

                      • A study published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology found that "CBD can be considered as a promising candidate for stress-related disorders and stress-induced immunodeficiency." (Blessing et al., 2015).
                      • The study also suggests that "CBD modulates cortisol secretion in humans" (Blessing et al., 2015). 
                      • "Compared to placebo, CBD significantly reduced salivary cortisol levels both acutely during the social stress test and after the stressor had ended" (Bergamaschi et al., 2011). This suggests that CBD may have a beneficial effect on reducing cortisol levels during stressful situations.

                      Use this calculator to find out how much CBD you should use!

                      Managing your cortisol levels is not always easy but there are steps you can take today that may help reduce them naturally such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and avoiding caffeine & alcohol consumption among others. Additionally, consider talking with your doctor about whether CBD products may be beneficial for you based on your personal circumstances Taking control of your everyday life choices is key in helping keep those pesky hormones under control!



                      Rachel Leproult, Georges Copinschi, Orfeu Buxton, Eve Van Cauter, Sleep Loss Results in an Elevation of Cortisol Levels the Next Evening, Sleep, Volume 20, Issue 10, October 1997, Pages 865–870,

                      Hill EE, Zack E, Battaglini C, Viru M, Viru A, Hackney AC. Exercise and circulating cortisol levels: the intensity threshold effect. J Endocrinol Invest. 2008 Jul;31(7):587-91. doi: 10.1007/BF03345606. PMID: 18787373.

                      Tomiyama AJ, Mann T, Vinas D, Hunger JM, Dejager J, Taylor SE. Low calorie dieting increases cortisol. Psychosom Med. 2010 May;72(4):357-64. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181d9523c. Epub 2010 Apr 5. PMID: 20368473; PMCID: PMC2895000.

                      al'Absi M, Lovallo WR. Caffeine effects on the human stress axis. In: Nehlig A, editor. Coffee, tea, chocolate and the brain. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2004. pp. 113–31.

                      Al'Absi M, Bongard S, Buchanan T, Pincomb GA, Licinio J, Lovallo WR. Cardiovascular and neuroendocrine adjustment to public speaking and mental arithmetic stressors. Psychophysiology. 1997 May;34(3):266-75. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.1997.tb02397.x. PMID: 9175441.

                      Turakitwanakan W, Mekseepralard C, Busarakumtragul P. Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol of medical students. J Med Assoc Thai. 2013 Jan;96 Suppl 1:S90-5. PMID: 23724462.

                      Ewert A, Chang Y. Levels of Nature and Stress Response. Behav Sci (Basel). 2018 May 17;8(5):49. doi: 10.3390/bs8050049. PMID: 29772763; PMCID: PMC5981243.

                      Camfield DA, Wetherell MA, Scholey AB, Cox KH, Fogg E, White DJ, Sarris J, Kras M, Stough C, Sali A, Pipingas A. The effects of multivitamin supplementation on diurnal cortisol secretion and perceived stress. Nutrients. 2013 Nov 11;5(11):4429-50. doi: 10.3390/nu5114429. PMID: 24284609; PMCID: PMC3847740.

                      Blessing, E.M., Steenkamp, M.M., Manzanares, J. et al. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics 12, 825–836 (2015).

                      Bergamaschi, M. M., Queiroz, R. H. C., Chagas, M. H. N., de Oliveira, D. C. G., De Martinis, B. S., Kapczinski, F., ... & Crippa, J. A. S. (2011). Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naive social phobia patients. Neuropsychopharmacology, 36(6), 1219-1226.

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