What can I do to lower my cortisol level?

Jonathan B. Levine, DMD
While endorphins are fairly easy to release, cortisol, known as the king of stress hormones, has a tendency to stick in humans and stay there, which causes all sorts of health problems. Built-up cortisol can cause weight gain, depression, osteoporosis, even heart disease and cancer. Animals secrete cortisol automatically as part of their innate survival skills. When they sense danger, their brain alerts their adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline and cortisol, which help fuel their fight or flight response. Now, if only humans could automatically kick into “fight or flight” as instinctively as animals in the wild do, we’d be much better off. When we get hit with daily stresses (work deadlines, nagging bosses, spouses or children, bills), we usually don’t fight or flight our way out of them.  Unfortunately, we instead retain cortisol, and thus, internalize stress.

Despite the resistance and inability to release cortisol, you can certainly lower its levels by making some minor adjustments:

  • Get more sleep.
  • Eat better. 
  • Stay away from supplements that increase cortisol levels, like ephedra, guarana, yohimbe and caffeine.
  • Take a daily multivitamin that has calcium, magnesium, vitamin C and B-complex—they’re needed for a proper stress response.
  • Consider taking a cortisol-controlling supplement containing Omega 3 fatty acids.
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Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Three times a day, close the door, remove your shoes and socks, and lower the lights. Breathe in for seven seconds; hold it for another seven; then exhale for a final seven seconds. Repeat the technique seven times to help “reset” your brain and get your cortisol levels under control. Research has shown that mindful relaxation techniques are associated with an increase in the size of your hippocampus in as little as eight weeks.
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Natasha Turner, ND
Alternative & Complementary Medicine

When you want to lower your cortisol level, think about sensory bliss - anything that is pleasurable will lower cortisol. Watch naturopathic doctor Natasha Turner, ND, discuss why eating often and enough are also important in keeping cortisol low.

Depending on the cause of your excess of cortisol, medical or surgical treatment may be appropriate. The most common cause of too much cortisol is taking medications that contain cortisol. These medicines are usually prescribed for inflammatory problems (e.g. asthma, arthritis), skin disorders (topical steroids/creams), or auto-immune problems (e.g. lupus). The best way to lower your cortisol level in these cases is to work closely with your doctor to only take glucocorticoid-containing medicines when absolutely necessary, take the minimum amount necessary, and to switch, when possible, to non-steroid containing medications that can treat your condition.

Chronic stress, alcohol and caffeine use are all things that can increase your cortisol level. Regular exercise, healthy attitudes and approaches to dealing with stress, and moderation of alcohol and caffeine intake can all lower your cortisol level.

If surgery is required, removal of a tumor in the pituitary gland, removal of an ACTH producing tumor elsewhere in the body, or removal of one and sometimes both of the adrenal glands can take care of excess cortisol levels.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.