We’re always hearing about hormones but many people associate it only with our reproductive (sex) hormones, yet there are so many other hormones in our body. Your stress hormone cortisol is one of them.
Feeling stressed out, unable to cope, nervous, irritable, craving sugars, experiencing brain fog, headaches, gastro-intestinal issues, or are you exhausted, have low blood sugar, salt cravings, lack of appetite, experiencing nausea and diarrhea, low blood pressure, depression, hair and weight loss? You may be may be experiencing high or low cortisol.
Know that you are not alone—most people report moderate to high daily stress. In today’s society stress is everywhere! We feel it when we wake up, when things happen during the day, and we even take it to bed with us. It’s chronic. And it’s not great for your health.
In fact, do you know what has been linked to 95% of all illnesses? Stress!
From the common cold, to cardiovascular disease to mental health, stress causes the body to lose the ability to regulate inflammation.
When we’re stressed our body reacts in a couple of ways.
One is by releasing the stress hormone cortisol. Having too much cortisol in the blood can be damaging to health, particularly if cortisol levels remain high over an extended period.
Cortisol normally plays a role in regulating immune cells, but when stress is prolonged and becomes chronic, those cells become insensitive to cortisol and inflammation goes unchecked.
This means what should be a temporary response becomes an out of control fire, wreaking havoc in the process.
Just to clarify, cortisol is not a “bad” hormone; it just needs to be in balance, not too little, not too much. Remind you of anything else…. Everything, right?!?!
Stress is unavoidable. Yet it’s also manageable. You can change your responses to stress and have a huge impact on your resilience. You can stop the cycle of chronic stress and worry with small changes. Improving your ability to transform stress will strengthen your energy reserves, improve tissue health, and create a supportive environment for healthy aging. Trying to lower stress levels is the best way to lower cortisol. By making simple lifestyle changes to live a healthier, more active life, people can reduce the amount of stress they experience, and keep their cortisol levels normal.
Here’s the thing, simply taking supplements and having some me time will not be enough, you actually have to undertake some lifestyle shifts. Easier said than done, I know, but take deep breaths and transform stress with confidence and skills by taking the first steps in lifestyle changes with my list of recommendations below. I’ve even included a de-stressing dessert recipe you can indulge in to help you when stress has you craving something sweet.
Foods and Nutrients to Lower Cortisol
Let’s start with one of the biggest culprit that increases your cortisol…“sugar”. Reducing the sugar we eat and drink can be a great step toward better health for our minds and our bodies.
High doses of caffeine also increase your cortisol levels. If coffee makes you feel anxious and jittery, then cut back on the amount of caffeine you ingest. There are great coffee substitutes such as Green Tea or Matcha Green tea that contains L-theanine that has anti-anxiety effects and can help you stay calmer. Yerba Matte is another substitute. Why not try an energy producing and hormone balancing Maca Latte? Mushroom coffees are another option, such as Organo Gold coffee.
Also, being dehydrated increases cortisol. Make sure you’re drinking enough water every day, especially if you feel thirsty. Try spa water (lemon, cucumbers) and sip your water throughout the day.
Eat a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods; this doesn't just help reduce stress hormone, it helps all aspects of your health.
Lower your cortisol levels with green tea and dark chocolate (not the sugary milky kind!). Have a square of dark chocolate and let it melt in your mouth bringing it to your palate to unwind.
What about probiotic and prebiotic foods? There is so much new research about the gut-mind connection, and how taking care of your friendly gut microbes is key! Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha are rich in probiotics and foods such as garlic, onions, leeks, jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, chicory root, asparagus and banana are rich in prebiotic fiber that feed your microbiome. Some of you however, suffering from histamine intolerance or from small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), for example, may not do well with probiotics or prebiotics (check out my blog post on “Could histamine be the reason of your lingering symptoms”).
Lifestyle Techniques to Lower Cortisol
It’s not just about food; there are things you can do with your time that can lower cortisol. There are many skills we can learn and practice regularly to support these goals. Meditation, deep breathing, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, taking a hot bath, getting a massage, or walking in nature are all enjoyable and easy ways to help calm the body and mind.
Reduce your stress with “mindfulness”. Many studies show that reducing stressful thoughts and worry reduces cortisol.
Get enough exercise (but don’t overdo it). While intense exercise increases cortisol levels temporarily, it can reduce overall cortisol levels.
Get enough sleep! Getting restorative quality sleep is underrated. Sleep reduces cortisol levels and also helps improve your overall health.
Be social and bust loneliness. Science has shown health risks from social isolation and loneliness. Maintaining good relationships and spending time with people you love and who support you is key.
Too much of the stress hormone cortisol can have several negative impacts on your health. There are many proven ways to reduce levels of cortisol naturally.
In terms of foods and nutrients, have less sugar and caffeine. And have more water, mostly vegetables, some fruit, green tea, dark chocolate, probiotics, and prebiotics.
Lifestyle factors are huge when it comes to cortisol. To lower yours, exercise (but not too much), get more sleep, relax, and have more fun.
Recipe (High fiber prebiotic):
De-Stressing Chocolate Pudding
3 ripe avocados
¼ cup cacao powder (unsweetened)
¼ cup maple syrup or raw honey
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 dash salt
Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Try adding a pinch of cinnamon for a deeper flavor.