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Ways to Naturally Lower Cortisol Levels

6 min read

By Rachel Despres

Medically Reviewed by Patty Weasler, RN

Stress is a feeling most everyone experiences from time to time. In order to cope with these moments when they occur, the body responds by releasing a hormone called cortisol.

If you suffer from chronic stress, however, your cortisol levels can become too high. Should they remain elevated for an extended period of time, they can have a variety of negative effects on the body, including weight gain, sleep problems, and increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. Fortunately, there are a variety of different ways cortisol levels can be lowered naturally, including these 12.

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Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet

In addition to stress, poor diet is another major factor for elevated cortisol levels. In fact, Healthline says, “Sugar intake is one of the classic triggers for cortisol release,” and that “Regular, high sugar intakes may keep your levels elevated.”

Therefore, it’s important to eat a healthy, balanced diet in order to keep your cortisol levels under control. There are a variety of different foods that are especially helpful, including fruit, dark chocolate, and extra virgin olive oil. The source also indicates that drinking tea, specifically black and green tea, “decreased cortisol in response to a stressful task.”

Reduce and Manage Stress

Because cortisol is released in response to stress, one of the best ways to lower your cortisol levels is to reduce the amount of stress you experience. This means regularly engaging in activities that are proven to help with relaxation, including spending time outdoors, meditating, and doing deep breathing exercises. Therapies like acupuncture and massage therapy are also effective.

But these techniques can only do so much. In some cases, it may be necessary to address stress at its source. This may mean quitting a bad job, exiting a poor relationship, or limiting contact with friends or family members who bring you down.

Exercise Regularly

The list of reasons why you should be exercising regularly is a mile long, and one of those reasons is that exercise helps to lower cortisol levels. Not only does 30 to 60 minutes a day of activity help to reduce stress, Dr. Axe says it can also “balance hormones, [help you] sleep better and aid normal metabolic functions (like balancing blood sugar levels).”

It’s important, however, to not push yourself too hard, as the source says, “overtraining and overexerting yourself…can actually cause even more cortisol to be released.”

Take Adaptogenic Herbs

While there are certainly medications that can help to reduce high cortisol levels, in most cases, natural remedies tend to be more effective and safer. Consuming adaptogenic herbs is one such natural remedy, and there are many that have proven effective.

These include ashwagandha, astragalus root, cordycep mushrooms, holy basil, licorice root, and rhodiola. Additionally, Vive Health says that ginseng is “one of the best adaptogen herbs available,” because of its antioxidants and ability “to help lower blood sugar and blood pressure.” Before trying any of these herbal remedies, however, it’s important to speak to your physician.

Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep may feel like a near-impossible task, but if you want to lower your cortisol levels, it’s essential. This is easier said than done, however, as Dr. Axe says “having high cortisol levels can make it hard to rest.” As a result, the source says they may feel “wired and anxious at night, but then fatigued during the day.”

This is the opposite of people with normal circadian rhythms, where cortisol rises in the morning but drops prior to bedtime and while you’re sleeping. To help get your circadian rhythm back to normal, the source says, “…you should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night.”

Maintain Healthy Relationships

Relationships—whether romantic, platonic, or familial—play a key role in our health and happiness, including reducing stress, and thus, cortisol levels. But only if these relationships are healthy, though, otherwise they can have the opposite effect.

For instance, Healthline says that studies have shown that “children with a stable and warm family life have lower levels [of cortisol] than children from homes with high levels of conflict,” and conflict within couples “results in a short-term elevation in cortisol.” To help maintain healthy relationships, the source says it’s important to be supportive, forgive wrongdoings, and manage conflict.

Care for a Pet

Human relationships aren’t the only type that can help to lower cortisol levels. Interacting with or caring for animals does as well, in addition to “increasing oxytocin, endorphins, and other healing hormones that promote self-healing mechanisms,” says

If you don’t already have a pet, such as a cat or dog, perhaps consider welcoming one into your home. If you’re not able to, however, there are plenty of other ways to spend time with animals, such as by hanging out with those owned by friends and family, dog walking, or volunteering at a shelter.

Embrace Spirituality

Those who consider themselves to be spiritual will be happy to know it can help to reduce cortisol levels. In fact, “Studies show that adults who expressed spiritual faith experienced lower cortisol levels in the face of life stressors such as illness,” cites Healthline. Prayer has also been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.

Religious and spiritual practices aren’t the only ways to achieve these benefits, though. The source says that meditation and social support are effective as well, as is “performing acts of kindness,” such as gift giving.

Take Supplements

You might also consider taking supplements to help lower your cortisol levels. There are many types that have been shown to help reduce stress including B vitamins, melatonin, and vitamin C.

Supplementing magnesium may be beneficial as well, as Dr. Jockers explains that “Stress increases our need for magnesium while also rapidly depleting it from the body.” Without supplementation, a deficiency may occur, which the source says “could make your stress more detrimental to your health.” As always, be sure to speak to your physician about whether taking supplements, and which ones, are the right remedy for you.

Have Fun

Possibly the most enjoyable way to lower your cortisol levels is to have some fun! Sit down and watch a funny TV show, hop on YouTube and search for silly videos, go see a live comedy show, or engage in any other activities that might promote the powerful remedy of laughter.

Other fun ways you can decrease cortisol levels is by listening to music, which has shown to help relax the brain and thus decrease stress hormones. And if your favourite song happens to come on, get up and dance! It’s yet another activity that lowers cortisol levels.

Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

Albeit enjoyable to drink, caffeinated and alcoholic beverages have been linked to increased levels of cortisol. Just 200-mg of caffeine, for instance, may increase the levels of cortisol in the bloodstream by 30 percent in only one hour.

And cortisol isn’t the only thing affected by caffeine. adds that “it also affects your adrenaline, adenosine, and dopamine levels.” As a result, it’s best to limit your consumption as much as possible, or opt for lower caffeine options like black and green tea, as mentioned earlier.

Chew Gum

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to help lower your cortisol levels is to pop a piece of gum into your mouth. In fact, a study conducted by Northumbria University in the United Kingdom found that “chewing gum while under moderate stress reduces mental stress and decreases cortisol by 12 per cent.”

Additionally, chewing gum has shown to make you more alert, as well as boost neural activity and increase blood flow to the brain. So be sure to keep a pack on hand to help out the next time you feel stressed.


Patty is a freelance health writer and nurse (BSN, CCRN). She has worked as a critical care nurse for over 10 years and loves educating people about their health. When she's not working, Patty enjoys any outdoor activity that she can do with her husband and three kids.

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