How to Naturally Lower Stress Hormone (Cortisol)

With our comprehensive guide, discover how to naturally lower the stress hormone cortisol. Learn how diet, exercise, sleep, and mindfulness can help manage stress and promote overall well-being.

Learn How To Lower Cortisol Naturally

Stress and the causes of stress are everywhere! Would you agree?

Our natural “fight or flight” response was designed to help us with injury, death, and escape in the event of an external threat. Then, we were meant to quickly return to our normal state after fighting the danger or running from it. Today, the threats are different, and the stress in our society has become long-term and chronic.

Understanding Cortisol and Its Role in the Body

Cortisol, often known as the “stress hormone,” is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, which sit atop your kidneys. It plays a crucial role in various bodily functions and is vital for maintaining overall health. Here’s a breakdown of what cortisol is and how it works in the body.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone released by the adrenal cortex in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration. It is regulated by the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal gland in a system known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

Functions of Cortisol in the Body

  1. Stress Response:
    • When you encounter a stressful situation, your brain signals the adrenal glands to release cortisol. This hormone prepares your body to handle the stress by increasing glucose in the bloodstream, enhancing brain use of glucose, and increasing the availability of substances that repair tissues.
  2. Metabolism Regulation:
    • Cortisol plays a vital role in metabolism. It helps regulate how your body converts proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into energy, ensuring that you have enough fuel during stressful situations or when food intake is low.
  3. Anti-Inflammatory and Immune Response:
    • Cortisol has potent anti-inflammatory properties. It helps control inflammation by preventing the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation. It also regulates the immune system, preventing it from overreacting.
  4. Blood Pressure Regulation:
    • Cortisol helps maintain blood pressure by influencing the constriction of blood vessels. This ensures that your cardiovascular system functions properly, especially during stress when your body needs to stay alert.
  5. Salt and Water Balance:
    • The hormone influences the balance of salt and water in your body, which is crucial for maintaining blood pressure and overall homeostasis.
  6. Circadian Rhythm:
    • Cortisol levels follow a daily cycle, peaking in the early morning and gradually declining throughout the day. This cycle helps regulate your sleep-wake pattern, energy levels, and overall alertness.

How Cortisol Works

  1. Production and Release:
    • When your brain perceives stress, the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH signals the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), prompting the adrenal glands to release cortisol.
  2. Action in the Body:
    • Once released into the bloodstream, cortisol travels to various tissues and organs. It binds to glucocorticoid receptors, influencing the function of these cells. For example, in the liver, it stimulates glucose production; in the muscles, it affects protein metabolism; and in the immune system, it modulates immune responses.
  3. Feedback Mechanism:
    • The HPA axis operates on a feedback loop. High levels of cortisol signal the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to reduce CRH and ACTH production, thus decreasing cortisol release. This feedback mechanism helps maintain cortisol balance and prevents overproduction.

Effects of Imbalanced Cortisol Levels

  • High Cortisol Levels:
    • Prolonged high levels of cortisol, often due to chronic stress, can lead to adverse health effects such as weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, mood swings, anxiety, and depression. It can also suppress the immune system, making you more susceptible to infections.
  • Low Cortisol Levels:
    • Insufficient cortisol production, as seen in conditions like Addison’s disease, can result in fatigue, muscle weakness, weight loss, low blood pressure, and darkening of the skin. It can also impair the body’s ability to respond to stress effectively.

Cortisol is naturally high in the morning and designed to get you going; then, it slowly fades during the day so you can sleep.

When cortisol is chronically too high, it can cause belly fat, brain fog, anxiety, poor sleep, slow metabolism, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, hormonal imbalances, and lowered immunity.


Most of us experience that. Don’t worry, though! There are foods we can eat to lower cortisol and different modalities to help you lower stress.

Foods and Nutrients to Lower Cortisol

Start with the most significant offender that increases your cortisol. I hate to break it to you, but it’s sugar! Reducing the sugar we eat can help significantly! We need to manage our blood sugar levels to lower cortisol. 

  • Eat a low-sugar, low-glycemic diet (no processed food, no sugary drinks or snacks, and no refined grain products).
  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. This diet is high in antioxidants, fiber, healthy fats, and no processed food. These elements are fundamental for balancing hormones and help immensely with sugar cravings.
  • Don’t drink too much coffee or alcohol. Too much caffeine increases cortisol levels, so if you feel anxious after drinking it, cut back.
  • Don’t consume refined or trans fats, which will help you balance your blood sugar and keep you thin.
  • Eat healthy protein. Protein will stabilize your blood sugar. Ensure that you eat organic, if not pastured, eggs and poultry, grass-fed meat, and wild-caught fish.
  • Eat enough healthy fats, like avocado, nuts, seeds, and coconut oil; they will help you fight sugar cravings and keep you full.
  • Eat balanced meals with protein, fat, and fiber on the plate.
  • Heal your gut from infections and digestion problems (this includes finding out your food sensitivities). Stress creates stress in the body and contributes to higher cortisol.
  • Drink enough water – dehydration also increases cortisol levels. When you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated, so drink regularly.
  • Take probiotics and prebiotics! Eat cultured food like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir. New research has shown a gut-mind connection, and taking care of your friendly gut microbes is critical!
  • Consume adaptogen herbs and superfoods.They are great for reducing stress and lowering cortisol. These adaptogens and superfoods naturally lower high cortisol levels. They reduce inflammation, are high in antioxidants, and help balance hormones. They have antiviral and antibacterial properties along with natural anti-depressant effects. They help fight fatigue and help balance blood sugar levels which is crucial for keeping the cortisol low.

Apoptogenic Herbs That Can Help Lower Cortisol

  • rhodiola
  • ginseng
  • ashwagandha
  • astragalus
  • licorice root
  • maca powder
  • holy basil
  • medicinal mushrooms (reishi and Cordyceps)

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help reduce stress and lower cortisol levels.

  • Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are packed with antioxidants that combat oxidative stress.
  • Citrus Fruits: Oranges, grapefruits, and lemons are high in vitamin C, which has been shown to lower cortisol.
  • Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale, and Swiss chard contain magnesium, which helps regulate cortisol.
  • Bell Peppers: Rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, they can help reduce stress hormones.
  • Broccoli: Contains sulforaphane, an anti-inflammatory compound that may help manage stress.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and can help lower cortisol levels.

  • Fatty Fish: Salmon, mackerel, and sardines are excellent sources of omega-3s.
  • Flaxseeds: A plant-based source of omega-3s, they can be added to smoothies, oatmeal, or baked goods.
  • Chia Seeds: Another great plant-based source that can be used in various recipes.
  • Walnuts: A convenient snack that provides omega-3s and supports brain health.


Probiotics support gut health, which is closely linked to cortisol regulation.

  • Yogurt: Opt for plain, unsweetened yogurt with live cultures.
  • Kefir: A fermented dairy product rich in probiotics.
  • Sauerkraut: Fermented cabbage that is beneficial for gut health.
  • Kimchi: A spicy fermented vegetable dish that supports the digestive system.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds provide essential nutrients that help reduce cortisol.

  • Almonds: High in magnesium and healthy fats.
  • Pumpkin Seeds: A good source of magnesium and zinc, which support the immune system.
  • Sunflower Seeds: Rich in vitamin E and other antioxidants.

Herbs and Spices

Certain herbs and spices can help manage cortisol levels.

  • Ashwagandha: An adaptogenic herb known for its stress-reducing properties.
  • Holy Basil: Also known as Tulsi, it helps lower stress and cortisol.
  • Turmeric: Contains curcumin, an anti-inflammatory compound that may help reduce cortisol.
  • Ginger: Known for its anti-inflammatory effects and ability to improve digestion.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate contains flavonoids that can reduce cortisol and improve mood.

  • Cocoa: Look for dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content for the best benefits.

Green Tea

Green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes relaxation and reduces cortisol.

  • Matcha: A powdered form of green tea that is especially rich in L-theanine.

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats support brain health and help reduce inflammation.

  • Avocado: Rich in healthy fats, fiber, and potassium.
  • Olive Oil: Contains monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.


    Staying hydrated is crucial for maintaining cortisol balance.

    • Water: Ensure you drink plenty of water throughout the day.
    • Herbal Teas: Chamomile, peppermint, and lavender teas can promote relaxation and reduce stress.

    Other Lifestyle Practices That Can Lower Stress Hormone Cortisol

    Essential Oils Are Excellent to Promote Relaxation

    Essential oils help fight stress and help to balance hormones. Lavender, bergamot, myrrh, and frankincense contain potent ingredients that naturally lower cortisol, help with sleep, lower inflammation, improve immunity, and improve digestive functions.

    Diffuse clary sage, frankincense, and myrrh for hormonal balance or put them in the bath. You can also inhale them or rub them directly onto your skin. Make sure to mix them appropriately with a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba oil. Peppermint or lemon oil will help you deal with side effects of high cortisol like a bloated stomach, indigestion, or acne.


    Hundreds of studies have shown that reducing stressful thoughts and worry reduces cortisol. Meditation is a perfect practice for stress reduction, and it helps the body relax. Try to meditate for 15 minutes a day and make it a daily routine. The results will satisfy you.


    Deep breathing exercises are perfect for reducing cortisol. Breathwork helps turn down the sympathetic nervous system. It puts the body in a relaxed state by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

    Take Time to Play Outdoors in Nature

    Studies have shown that spending time in nature helps reduce cortisol and anxiety and promotes relaxation. Go on a walk, hike, sit by a tree or by the creek, walk through the forest, lay on the ground with your belly, and feel Grandmother Earth. Spending time in nature can have a calming effect and reduce cortisol levels. Whether it’s a walk in the park, hiking in the woods, or simply sitting by a lake, nature’s tranquility can help lower stress hormones. Aim to spend at least 20-30 minutes outdoors each day.

    Try acupuncture 

    Excellent for stress reduction and anxiety.

    Exercise Can Help Lower Cortisol Naturally

    Engaging in regular physical activity is one of the most effective ways to reduce cortisol. Exercise helps to metabolize cortisol, allowing your body to return to a state of balance. Activities like yoga, walking, swimming, and cycling are particularly beneficial. However, be mindful of over-exercising, as intense physical stress can actually increase cortisol levels.


    Sleep is critical for managing cortisol levels. Lack of sleep can cause a significant increase in cortisol production. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Create a bedtime routine that promotes relaxation, such as reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing meditation. Ensure your sleeping environment is conducive to rest—dark, cool, and quiet.

    Practice Gratitude

    Gratitude has been linked to lower levels of stress and improved mental health. Keeping a gratitude journal, where you regularly write down things you’re thankful for, can shift your focus away from stress and reduce cortisol levels.

    Have fun, Play, and Relax! 

    Get a massage, go to the sauna or hot springs (if they are close by), get a dog, listen to music, or go dancing!

    Spend Time with Friends and Family

    Be social! You don’t have to do it alone! Maintaining good relationships and spending time with people you like and who support you is crucial.

    Now you know that high cortisol can negatively impact your health, and you also know that there are many ways to reduce cortisol levels naturally.

    Incorporating these foods and nutrients into your diet can help naturally lower cortisol levels and promote overall health. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and herbs can significantly impact your stress levels. Alongside dietary changes, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, adequate sleep, and mindfulness practices will further support your efforts to manage cortisol and reduce stress.

    As a bonus, here’s a dessert recipe you can enjoy guilt-free!

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    How to Naturally Lower Stress Hormone (Cortisol)

    Avocado Cacao Pudding

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    Course: nutrition
    Cuisine: Healthy
    Keyword: avocado, Maple syrup, raw cacao powder (unsweetened)
    Servings: 6
    Calories: 95kcal
    Author: Angie


    • 4 ripe avocados
    • ½ cup raw cacao powder (unsweetened)
    • ¼ cup maple syrup
    • ½ tbsp vanilla extract
    • dash salt
    • ¾ cup Nut milk


    • Place the ingredients into a food processor.
    • Blend it until smooth.
    • If you have a hard time to blend add a more nut milk.
    • Serve & enjoy!

    You can add pinch of cinnamon for a more in-depth flavor.


      Calories: 95kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.3g | Sodium: 5mg | Potassium: 94mg | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin C: 0.3mg | Calcium: 20mg | Iron: 1mg

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