Cortisol is very much needed in the body. However, too much or too little of it can be very bad for your health.
Symptoms of high cortisol include:
- inability to fall asleep
- weight gain around midsection
- muscle weakness
- cognitive dysfunction
- inability to detox
- tiredness after a meal
- blurry vision and eye floaters
Symptoms of low cortisol include:
- waking up tired in the mornings
- low blood sugar
- weak immune system
- light headed
- weight gain all over
Cortisol is secreted to deal with inflammation but chronic secretion thereof leads to elevated inflammation. It also increases the aromatase, degrades androgen receptors, induces hypogonadism, increases serotonin, prevents proper digestion, induces lipid peroxidation, insulin resistance and impaired mitochondrial function, contributes to heart disease, osteopenia, muscle loss, skin atrophy, mental disease, and lots of other degenerative conditions. Cortisol also inhibits thyroid gland function and the conversion of T4 into T3 and can lead to hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of high adrenaline and high cortisol can sometimes be interchangeable. A sure sign of high adrenaline is shakiness, lightheadedness, muscle strength loss and cold extremities.
1) Balance blood sugar
The most important factor to focus on, when trying to lower cortisol or when recovering from adrenal fatigue or when trying to improve thyroid function, is to balance blood sugar. When blood sugar drops too low, the adrenal gland releases cortisol to pick blood sugar back up.
Eat frequently to prevent a drop in blood sugar. At least every 3 hours. Eat more protein, more saturated fat and less high GI carbs. Don’t go no carb, as this will put extra stress on your adrenal gland. Start with 10-20g of carbs every 3 hours. That would be about 1 apple or small banana. I advise to stay with fruit and stay away from grains, beans, legumes etc… Fruit is a very easy and effective energy source with very little anti-nutrients and lots of nutrients.
Vanadium, Chromium, cinnamon, taurine, caffeine, glycine, vitamin K2 (Kuinone) all help with healing the liver and gut and aiding in glycogen storage in the liver. Start with 1g+ taurine, 1g glycine, 400mg+ caffeine and 45mg vitamin K2 daily.
This will help prevent a dip in energy as glucose is constantly readily available. Poor liver function can lead to improper glucose storage and inadequate usage of energy.
A common problem however is that most people have digestive issues and cannot digest and/or utilize all the amino acids from the foods they eat. The undigested food then go and rot in the gut and causes inflammation and later on disease. A great way to bypass this is to use very easy digestible protein such as whey or amino acids. Combine some creatine and gelatin with your amino acids or whey to aid in recovery and boost hypertrophy post-workout.
2) Lose the fat
Fat (adipose tissue) is bad for just about every aspect of your life. It lowers testosterone, DHT, it reduces the quality of sleep and even increases cortisol, just to name a few of the detrimental side effects.
An enzyme’s activity, called 11β-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1), is increased as adipose tissue increases (1). This enzyme converts cortisone (weaker metabolite of cortisol) to cortisol, thus increasing cortisol levels in the blood.
3) Don’t go too skinny
Just as having too much fat in the body is bad for your health, being too skinny (anorexic) is just as bad for your health as well.
Anorexia nervosa is also shown to increase cortisol levels (2). So avoid eating too little food, as it will increase cortisol levels just as much as overeating.
4) High power poses
This study shows that high-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, decrease in cortisol, increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk, while low-power posers exhibited the opposite pattern. (3)
The truth of the matter is, people who are intimidated or scared tend to go into a low-power pose. However, just by going into a high-power pose will not change the state of the mind, because hormones are controlled by your mind and not by your poses. Your confidence will automatically show outwardly when you’re a positive, self-assured person inwardly. The focus here is not to try to intimidate or dominate others, out of your own insecurity, but to be confident in yourself. You’ll also see that people who are confident in themselves, don’t try to dominate other people, because they just don’t care what other people do or think. They know what they want and have what it takes to do so, calmly.
As Romans 12:2 says:
“And do not be conformed by this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Note the importance of your mind… it needs renewing in order for it to be transformed.
Power poses, however, are exactly just that…
And who does poses?
Chew on that one for a while.
Music therapy has shown to increase feelings of well-being and to reduce cortisol (4). Although not all music has this effect, as ‘hard’ music can actually increase feelings of aggression and higher cortisol levels. (5) But above all types of music, the ‘music’ of nature has the most soothing effect on the human mind. Just go to the forest or ocean or just somewhere nice and quiet without the noise of the city, and just listen to the birds and bugs and the wind blowing through the trees, and it will have a very calming effect on you.
Worrying and stress is a big stimulator of cortisol. Whether it’s about tomorrow – bills, things that must get done or unresolved issues/conflict in a relationship, it’s causing an increase in cortisol. Mindfulness is to focus on the now. A good place to start is to sit somewhere quiet, eyes closed if you like, and just concentrate on the now. Shut your mind off, and just feel the air blowing in and out of your nose, your heart beating, etc. Try not to think about anything for about 10-20 minutes. This will greatly decrease your worry, stress and tension and help to refresh your mind with new ideas, calmness, etc. Keep doing this every day and sure enough, mindfulness will become a habit and soon you will find yourself worrying less and less and just focusing on the now, taking each day as it comes. Just as it says in the Lord’s prayer in Mathew 6:9-13 (ESV): “Give us this day our daily bread…” It’s focusing on today. The Lord will provide and aid us in our battles every day as it comes. I highly recommend learning the Lord’s prayer and praying it every day.
Massage therapy can lower cortisol up to an averaging decrease of 31% (6). And other than that, a massage is very calming and increases dopamine. Dopamine is the feel good hormone which will give you energy, mental focus, courage, etc.
A massage can also help you to recover from an injury faster, or loosen up a tight and tense muscle that might be pinching.
Laughter is always good medicine. Laughter is a positive sensation, and seems to be a useful and healthy way to overcome stress. People who laugh more tend to have lower cortisol, higher dopamine, stronger immunity and have a better sense of well-being. (7)
“A merry heart does good, like medicine, But a broken spirit dries the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22
“…unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…” – Mathew 18:3. It doesn’t mean to become childish (in an immature way), but rather to become like children by laughing more, being humble, forgive easily, live in the now and trust God etc…
So remember to laugh more and stress less.
Ashwagandha, a.k.a. withania somnifera, indian ginseng, padalsingh, poison gooseberry, or winter cherry, is a herb used in Ayurvedic healing. Ashwagandha root extract improves resistance towards stress and lowers cortisol significantly. (8) More on ashwagandha here…
- Ashwagandha root extract – 300mg (MK-66 extract) per cap, 120 caps. Start with 1 cap twice daily
10) Rhodiola rosea
Rhodiola rosea is also an adaptogenic herb with some outstanding qualities.
- antidepressant (9)
- anti-cancer (9)
- cardio-protective (9)
- central nervous system enhancement (9)
- neuro-protective (10)
It increases mental performance under stress (11). This study shows that animals who ingested rhosdiola rosea, showed almost no increase in cortisol levels during stress. (12) Rodiola rosea is a potent adaptogen and increases resilience to stress, induce feelings of calmness and being able to complete tasks. It also increases dopamine and therefore confidence etc. Rodiola rosea also prevents the rise in adrenaline and therefore prevents blood sugar spikes and falls.
- Solaray Rhodiola rosea – Guaranteed to contain 3% Rosavins, 1% Salidroside, 500mg per cap, 60 caps (take 500mg daily, either before bed or in the morning depending on how you react to it)
11) L-Lysine & L-arginine
L-lysine and L-arginine, are two amino acids that when combined are able to significantly lower cortisol.
Just one week of 2.64g of L-lysine combined with 2.64g of L-arginine per day, decreased cortisol levels significantly. They are also a potent anti-anxiety combo. (13) Lysine on its own is still potent anti-anxiety, anti-cortisol and dampens stress-induced anxiety. (14)
Lysine is a serotonin receptor antagonist and also inhibits serotonin-mediated anxiety. (15) Yes, serotonin causes anxiety. That’s why being on an anti-depressant increases anxiety, and that’s why most people have to use anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication together. More on lysine and arginine here…
A magnesium deficiency causes an increase in the transcription of the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CTH) and elevated ACTH plasma levels, points to an enhanced set-point of the HPA axis. Meaning the adrenal gland now releases more cortisol due to elevated CTH signaling regardless of any circumstance due to a magnesium deficiency. (16)
Magnesium supplementation has also been shown to attenuate the activity of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, including a reduction in the release of ACTH and cortisol to stress stimuli. (17, 18)Therefore, Mg may further influence anxiety states via the moderation of the stress response.
Magnesium has also been shown to be anti-anxiety as well as increase the sensitivity to anti-anxiety compounds, such as lysine, glycine, taurine, etc… (19)
Magnesium also blunts the cortisol response following aerobic exercise. (20)
Even though most people eat lots of magnesium rich foods, they are still magnesium deficient. Many people have digestive problems, and very few nutrients are absorbed into the body due to bad food combinations, improper digestions, endotoxins, anti-nutrients, inorganic sources etc…
Many people benefit from a magnesium supplement and I highly recommend getting one. More on magnesium here…
- Magnesium glycinate – 200mg per cap, 180 caps
13) Omega 3
Consuming omega 3 through foods or supplements, has been shown to be anti-stress. It also reduces cortisol secretion. (21) I personally would not go near omega 3 as it’s a polyunsaturated fatty acid which is detrimental to your metabolism, mitochondria, testosterone, and it also increases estrogen, inflammation, serotonin, and inhibits the 5-alpha-reductase enzyme thus lowering DHT as well.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is an amino acid that can be derived from soy or animal sources such as cow brains.
It enhances exercise performance, lowers exercise-induced cortisol and protects the body from overtraining. (24)
It can also be used to lower high plasma cortisol. As seen here, 600mg of phosphatidylserine supplementation lowered cortisol by 35% after just 10 days. (25)
- Phosphatidylserine – 100mg per cap, 120 caps
15) Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a potent anti-oxidant, it inhibits sleep deprived increase in cortisol as well as inhibits cortisol secretion following HPA stimulation by ACTH during an induced stressor. (26, 27) Vitamin C is also potent against anxiety and may also improve academic performance. (28) Thus it can be helpful during periods of stress and act as an adaptogen.
Supplementing with vitamin C is also shown to lower cortisol release induced by aerobic exercise. (29) The response is also dose dependent. (30, 31) However, I do not advise to take vitamin C directly before or directly after your weight training session, as this will inhibit your body to adapt to the ‘stressor’ on its own as the body releases its own anti-inflammatory polypeptides to adapt. So taking vitamin C inhibits the body to do so by itself, thus inhibiting beneficial adaption. This will also significantly inhibit optimal hypertrophy. I then rather advise to take vitamin C 6-8+ hours before or after your training session.
- Vitamin C (ester-C) – 500mg per serving, 100 caps
Niacinamide is a derivative of niacin (a.k.a. nicotinic amide or nicotinamide) and is an effective inhibitor of 11β-HSD1 in human adipocytes which exhibits good drug-like properties. (32) 11β-HSD1 is the enzyme that converts cortisone to the active hormone cortisol, which then activates the glucocorticoid (cortisol) receptors.
Inhibition of 11β-HSD1 also increases insulin sensitivity and reduces the risk of obesity.
Niacinamide is also able to enhance 11b-HSD2 (an enzyme that deactivates cortisol by converting it to cortisone) by raising NAD levels, as 11b-HSD2 is NAD dependent. (33)
Niacinamide also decreases estrogen and estrogen receptors, as well as increases androgen receptors.
- Niacinamide – 500mg per cap, 100 caps
17) Vitamin B6
All types of vitamin B6 are able to inhibit cortisol secretion and a vitamin B6 deficiency is associated with increased depressive symptoms. (35) But only the pyridoxine HCL version is able to increase 5α-reductase for DHT synthesis. Vitamin B6 is also involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as dopamine.
- Vitamin B6 (p5p) – 50mg per cap, 60 caps (only take a quarter tablet a day)
18) Bright light/vitamin D
Bright light, such as sunlight, significantly lowers cortisol, whereas dim light, such as candlelight, had no effect on cortisol. (37) Sunlight is also known to increase dopamine, feelings of well-being, elevate brain fog and just refreshes the mind. Sunlight is also a powerful anti-bacterial and anti-viral. Vitamin D also powerfully lower cortisol, by reducing the enzyme 11β-HSD 1, and just a small dose of 2000IU daily is able to lower cortisol by 40% (s). More on vitamin D here…
- Vitamin D – 1000IU per cap, 180 caps (take 1-5 caps daily, depending on the amount of sun you get)
- Vitamin D – 1000IU per drop, 240 drops (excellent topical absorption)
The active ingredient in aspirin, salicylic acid, is able to increase insulin sensitivity, block the aromatase, is a potent anti-inflammatory, prevents endotoxin absorption in the gut, antagonizes estrogen, histamine, serotonin and prolactin, etc…
It also powerfully lowers cortisol by inhibiting the enzyme 11β-HSD1, which is responsible for the conversion of inactive cortisone into the active glucocorticoid cortisol. (38, 39) For people who are insulin resistant up to 4g a day might be necessary and for healthy, less stressed individuals, 1g may suffice. I advise to start with a low dose and see how you feel. If you feel tired after taking it, then it is effectively lowering your cortisol. Tiredness after a meal or such a supplement, is induced by lowering cortisol and revealing a sluggish metabolism underneath.
20) Vitamin A
Vitamin A supplementation is shown to significantly decrease body weight, visceral fat mass and 11β-HSD1 activity in visceral fat, as well as hepatic 11β-HSD1 activity and gene expression, is significantly reduced by vitamin A supplementation. (40) Vitamin A also works in synergy with vitamin D in testosterone production and is important for many other functions in the body. More on vitamin A here…
- IdealabsDC Retinil – Two options: 1) 5000IU vitamin A (retinyl palmitate), 340 servings 2) 2400IU vitamin A (retinyl acetate) per serving, 340 servings. Both are very high purity ingredients and for the same price.
- IdealabsDC Estroban – 5000IU vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) per serving, 30 servings, combined with vitamin D (1000IU), E (100IU), K2 (2mg MK-4), very high purity ingredients.
- Vitamin A (palmitate) – 5 000IU per cap, 100 caps
- Zinc glycinate – 22mg per cap, 250 caps
200mg theanine was shown to lower cortisol quite significantly, but only after 3 hours of ingesting. Theanine is a potent stress induced cortisol inhibitor. (42) 200mg every 6 hours may work ideal, as the effect of theanine only peaks after 5 hours in the brain. Theanine is also able to lower serotonin and increase dopamine.
- L-Theanine – 200mg per serving, 60 caps
Elevated TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) was positively associated with cortisol. (43) Hypothyroidism is associated with elevated TSH and low T3 hormone, but normal T4 hormone levels. Because thyroid hormones are low and cannot keep up with the body’s metabolic demands, cortisol steps in to provide energy. Cortisol then further suppresses the thyroid. To fix this, ensure optimal blood sugar levels as discussed above to keep cortisol low then feed your thyroid what it needs, desiccated thyroid and iodine.
- Pure Icelandic Organic Sea Kelp – 225mcg iodine per serving, 500 caps
Emodin, a natural product and active ingredient of various Chinese herbs, has been shown to potently inhibit 11β-HSD1 both in fat cells and in the liver. (44) It also assists in preventing endotoxin absorption in the gut and helps to eliminate toxins from the body. High concentrations of emodin are found in cascara sagrada. It’s also a purgative resin from rhubarb, Polygonum cuspidatum, the buckthorn and Japanese Knotweed and Aloe.
- Lapodin – 40mg emodin per serving, 30 servings (excellent topical absorption)
Sleeping is the time when the body recovers, repairs and prepares for the following day. Sleep deprivation increases cortisol and many other unwanted side effects such as irritability, anger, anxiety, brain fog, headaches, aching body etc. Getting adequate sleep is very important if you want your body to function optimally, have optimal energy, brain power and if you want to build muscle or perform better at a sport etc. Good, sufficient sleep increases testosterone and decreases cortisol. Just be sure you have enough liver glycogen to make it through the night without disruptive sleep. If you eat as discussed above to optimize blood sugar, you will be fine. Eat another piece of fruit and protein (poultry, fish, dairy) about 30 min to 1 hour before bed and this will help to keep blood sugar levels constant during the night. A drop in blood sugar will cause a rise in cortisol which will wake you. More on improving sleep here….
26) Activated charcoal
Activated charcoal is charcoal that has been treated with oxygen. It’s very porous, so then toxins and bacterial go into these pores and the charcoal then excretes it from the body. Therefore activated charcoal is anti-bacterial and anti-endotoxic, which lowers pathogenic intestinal bacteria and therefore serotonin and cortisol.
However, activated charcoal can also bind to beneficial nutrients, such as minerals and vitamins and prevent their absorption. Thus, activated charcoal should only be used intermittently. Start with 1 tbsp 1 to 3 times daily when you want to detox.
27) Magnolia and Phellodendron
The extract of these two plant barks are used in a supplement called Relora, and according to this study, Relora reduces cortisol and the perception of stress/anxiety, while improving weight loss in subjects with stress-related eating. After 4 weeks, cortisol dropped by 18%, as well as overall stress (-11%), tension (-13%), depression (-20%), anger (-42%), fatigue (-31%), and confusion (-27%), and higher indices of global mood state (+11%) and vigor (+18%). (45) The combination of these two herbs has a relaxing effect, but not sedative.
- Relora – 300mg per serving, 120 servings
GABA administration is shown to reduce fatigue as well as cortisol levels, although taking 50mg is better than 25mg. (46) This could be due to the fact that the individuals were low in GABA levels, or GABA precursors. GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter, whereas taurine, glycine and beta-alanine are also an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which helps keep cortisol at bay.
Glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter) is a major activator of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and is known to increase plasma levels of corticosterone via involvement of type II glucocorticoid receptor (GR) availability. GABA apposes glutamate and reduces GR.
- GABA – 500mg per serving, 100 caps
Glycine is an amino acid that acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which has potent anti-anxiety, pro-energy, calmness, mental clarity properties. Glycine has shown to reduce cortisol by 80%. 75mg/kg for humans which would be 6g of glycine for an 80kg man. (47) More on glycine here…
- Glycine – 1000mg per cap, 100 caps
30) Pregnenolone & DHEA
Pregnenolone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which have a double bond in ring B; both exert an inhibitory effect on the uptake of 3H-cortisol by the nuclei via GR to translocation. (48) Pregnenolone enhances memory, mood, skin health and in general, protects the body against stress and various toxins, it also inhibits aromatase, as well as aids with detoxification. DHEA also helps with detoxification and its levels also decline with age. Pregnenolone enhances the enzyme 5-alpha reductase (5-AR), which will drive the conversion of DHEA into DHT. DHEA improves mood and memory and has anti-cortisol and anti-diabetic effects, etc…
- IdealabsDC Pansterone – 5mg pregnenolone and 5mg DHEA per serving, 90 servings, very high topical absorption
31) Lower Endotoxins
Endotoxins irritate the gut and increase serotonin. Serotonin then increases cortisol. Endotoxins can come from eating processed food, in-organic food, having digestive problems, bad food combinations, too much soluble fiber, serotonin rich foods, malnutrition, impurities in supplements, etc…
By combining certain macro-nutrients causes improper digestion. This then leads to bloating, gas, acid reflux, rotting, acidity etc…
Major factors that contribute is an unhealthy liver, weak immunity, leaky gut, inadequate bile, not enough stomach acid, inadequate digestive enzymes, gallstones, kidney stones etc…
As Hippocrates said: “all disease starts in the gut.”
Weight training has tons of benefits and every person should do at least some kind of physical activity. Weight training is good for blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, brain function (by increasing brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)), hormones, detoxification, muscle coordination & balance, mood & well-being, cardiovascular health, etc… Weight training is also potent anti-anxiety and decreases resting cortisol in men. (49, 50) It also increases beta-endorphins (natural pain killers which are great against depression) and dopamine, which increases mental clarity, ambition, enthusiasm, drive, focus, etc…
If you need guidance or a very specialized training program, check it out here…
33) Milk thistle
This herb has long been used to support liver function and to aid in the detoxification of toxins. Milk thistle also has some potential cortisol lowering abilities (lower adrenocorticotropin (ACTH)), (51) although it is also estrogenic at higher doses. Milk thistle helps the liver increase estrogen metabolism and excretion, hence the slight estrogenic effect at low doses may not increase estrogen, as the liver is able to eliminate more estrogen. For example, a low dose of milk thistle increases estrogen by 1, but the liver can then excrete estrogens by two. But a higher dose of milk thistle will then increase estrogen by 5, but the liver will still only be able to excrete estrogen by 2. This will result in milk thistle becoming estrogenic. This is a very simplistic example.
However, 200mg – 500mg of milk thistle may still be safe before becoming estrogenic.
- Milk thistle seed extract – 150mg 30:1 concentrated per serving, 200 caps
34) Saturated fatty acids
Palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid, found in high concentrations in coconut oil and dairy fat, are able to significantly lower cortisol. A dose of 2-3g is needed to lower 11b-HSD1 significantly, thus inhibiting cortisol synthesis. (52)
Ornithine is a non-essential amino acid, which is synthesized from arginine. Only small amounts are present in some foods. Even at a small dose, 400mg/day has been shown to lower cortisol and anger and improve feelings of fatigue and mood. (53) Ornithine also lowers ammonia and aid in liver detoxification. Best time to take would be with your morning coffee and before bed. More on ornithine here…
- L-ornithine – 500mg, 120 caps
36) Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Holy basil lowers cortisol, increases insulin release (which enables muscle to increase uptake of glucose and protein), and are anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory. (54)
β-hydroxy β-methylbutyrate (HMB) is a metabolite of leucine, and is thought to be much more potent in terms of boosting muscle growth and reducing muscle breakdown. A recent study found that taking 1g of HMB three times daily significantly lowers cortisol by 32% and increases the testosterone to cortisol ratio by 162%. This effect was seen after an overnight fast in the morning when cortisol is the highest. Interestingly, HMB did not prevent baseline muscle catabolism (55).
Despite the fact that HMB did not suppress baseline proteolysis, HMB is a potent supplement to take to boost muscle and strength gains (56).
- HMB – 1g per cap, 90 cap
38) Ginkgo Biloba
120mg of the standardized extract of Ginkgo Biloba (EGb 761) improves memory and aging associated cognitive deficits and has a beneficial effects on mood as it exerts an antistress effect by lowering the release of cortisol during stress (57). This prevents the decline of cognitive function during stress.
39) Hibiscus Sabdariffa
Hibiscus supplementation stimulates mitochondrial function, supports energy homeostasis, lowers cortisol and protects of the cardiovascular system by lowering oxidative stress, inflammation, the angiotensin converting enzyme and also promotes vasodilation (58).