You’ve read a lot from me on a health issue called “adrenal fatigue” and how important it is to naturally lower cortisol levels. I know many people don’t believe adrenal fatigue is a real thing. But, when you’ve been through the diet and lifestyle changes that help resolve adrenal fatigue, you know that it is very real!
Stress – it’s everywhere these days. Our bodies respond to all types of stress equally, by releasing our stress hormone cortisol. And, both real and perceived stress affects us in the same way.
You feel stress when a new, urgent project gets dumped on your desk. Or, when you have a very important appointment and, TODAY of all days, traffic is at a standstill. Plus, your body releases cortisol when you feel overwhelmed by everything that has to be done on the weekend. Heck, I can even get stressed out because I can’t fit in the time I need to relax – how ironic, right?
Our Stress Response
Our natural stress response is for our adrenal glands (those little walnut-sized glands that sit on top of each kidney) to produce cortisol as well as epinephrine and norepinephrine. Cortisol helps get energy ready and prevent unnecessary body processes as we face down our stressor.
This natural stress response is known as the “fight or flight response”. When we’re faced with a very real and dangerous threat, like a saber-tooth tiger, we need our bodies to be ready to fight or flee! And, once we’ve fought off the tiger (or run away from it), our cortisol levels return to normal.
But what happens when this response is activated all the time?
Chronic Stress and The Stress Response
As I mentioned, we experience a lot of stress every single day. And, these real or perceived stressors activate our stress response each time. Plus, when we’re stressed out, we rarely fight back or flee from a stressor, so the resources that cortisol got ready for us never get used up.
This chronic state of stress response plays a huge role in disease and illnesses.
The Importance of Cortisol
Cortisol is a hormone that helps regulate our sleep and wakefulness cycles each day. When cortisol is high, we’re generally more alert; when cortisol is low, we’re a lot sleepier.
Cortisol is released in a cyclical pattern throughout the day. This hormone begins to rise early in the morning so that you’re ready to get out of bed and start your day. It continues to rise towards midday and then slowly starts to taper off. At bedtime, cortisol is usually at its lowest level.
However, if you’re chronically stressed and your body is continuously producing cortisol, your natural cortisol cycle will be out of whack. For some people, cortisol may be low in the morning and very high in the evening. This is why some people feel wired and tired at bedtime. Others may experience low cortisol almost all day long. These people will feel tired and lethargic all day long. When the adrenals can’t produce enough cortisol to wake you up and keep you alert, adrenal fatigue has likely set in.
Health Risk of Imbalanced Cortisol
Chronically high levels of cortisol are associated with stubborn belly fat, poor sleep, brain fog, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and lowered immunity. Inflammatory disorders can also arise, like arthritis, cardiovascular disease or allergies.
Chronically low levels of cortisol not only make you feel absolutely exhausted. Poor blood sugar regulation, lack of hand-eye coordination, excessive hunger, and poor concentration happen.
Other health issues associated with cortisol dysfunction are infertility, PMS, early-onset menopause, anxiety, depression and low thyroid function.
If you think you’re dealing with cortisol dysregulation or adrenal fatigue, read on! I have some great food and lifestyle tips to help naturally lower cortisol levels!
If you think adrenal fatigue or cortisol dysfunction is preventing you from living your fullest life, click the image below to get a FREE copy of my Adrenal Fatigue Rescue Kit today!
What to Avoid to Naturally Lower Cortisol
One of the biggest foods to avoid if you want to naturally lower cortisol is SUGAR! Sugar is very pro-inflammatory, which triggers our stress response. Actually, any foods that promote inflammation in your body will trigger the production of cortisol. Sugar is very toxic to our bodies, too, so it can negatively affect our liver’s ability to detoxify excess hormones and help eliminate them.
Reducing sugar in our foods and drinks is probably the most important step to help naturally lower cortisol.
Another unfortunate stress response trigger is caffeine. I say unfortunate because so many people love their coffee! However, caffeine triggers the release of cortisol. If you feel anxious or jittery after your favorite caffeinated beverage, it’s likely time to cut back.
Foods to Eat to Naturally Lower Cortisol
Alright, let’s move on to what you should eat to naturally lower cortisol.
Drink lots of pure, filtered water. Dehydration, even if you’re not thirsty, can spike cortisol. A good way to defend yourself against dehydration is to drink at least 10 glasses of water a day. And, of course, always drink water when you feel thirsty.
Eat a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods. Make sure you’re eating at least one serving of vegetables from each color group every single day. Include lean organic fruits and protein, plus raw seeds and nuts in your diet. A variety of foods helps to naturally lower cortisol AND improve overall health.
You can naturally lower cortisol levels by eating dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao) and by drinking herbal teas. These two foods have the added benefit of helping you feel more relaxed just by eating them.
And, finally, to naturally lower cortisol, your gut health needs to be in tiptop shape. Fermented foods and fiber are your friends! Keep your gut microbiome healthy by eating foods like kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut or unsweetened pickles, and feed those good bacteria with prebiotics from apples, asparagus, inulin, jicama and whole grains.
Lifestyle Tips to Naturally Lower Cortisol
Okay, it shouldn’t be a surprise that to counteract the stress response, you need to learn to relax more often. In fact, relaxation is probably even more important than food when you want to naturally lower cortisol levels.
Don’t get me wrong – the wrong foods mess up your cortisol levels too! But, neglecting to do fun, relaxing activities will only make stress worse.
One of the best things you can do is to practice mindfulness in everything you do. Pay attention to what and how much you eat. Talk yourself down when you feel your stress levels rise, especially in situations that you simply cannot control. Be mindful of the little things in life that trigger your stress response and learn ways to combat your desire to freak out!
And, mindfully schedule time for relaxation every single day!
Exercise, Sleep and Social Interaction
Exercise helps relax you, too. Make sure you’re getting enough exercise but be careful not to overdo things. Exercise requires a special consideration into intensity and frequency when dealing with cortisol dysfunction.
Yes, exercise relaxes you but exercise also increases your cortisol levels. If you do too much exercise, that cortisol becomes a problem. Moderate, regular exercise has been shown to reduce overall cortisol levels though. Listen to your body – it’ll tell you if it’s ready to move.
Another extremely important factor to help naturally lower cortisol is to get enough sleep. Unfortunately, cortisol dysfunction messes with your ability to fall and stay asleep. So, if sleep is out of reach today, try some of the food, relaxation and exercise tips first. Set a sleep schedule and try to stick to it as closely as possible, even on weekends. The adrenals love routine – any deviation from normal routines spikes cortisol too.
Essentially, the best thing you can do for yourself to naturally lower cortisol is to relax and have fun. Laugh more, listen to music, do fun activities and learn to put yourself first more often.
Another important factor to naturally lower cortisol is to ensure you have a good support system. Social isolation and loneliness can produce health risks associated with elevated cortisol levels. So, try to get out with friends and enjoy family time as much as possible to naturally lower cortisol levels.
Are You Ready to Naturally Lower Cortisol?
Remember, elevated cortisol can impact your health in so many ways. Whole foods, mindfulness, exercise and sleep have been proven to naturally lower cortisol levels.
Avoid sugar, caffeine and other pro-inflammatory and toxic foods as much as possible. Have more fun. Drink lots of water. Indulge with dark chocolate on occasion.
Stress and the way our bodies respond to it can’t really be controlled. But, we CAN nourish our bodies, minds and souls through good food choices, self-love and laughter. Stress relief is really your best option if you want to naturally lower cortisol.