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There are multiple natural ways to decrease cortisol levels. We will be exploring the easiest, most natural, and least expensive methods for keeping your cortisol levels in check.
If you’ve read the July 2017 article ‘Is Anxiety Making You Fat?’ you already understand one of the reasons why decreasing elevated cortisol levels is so very important.
Natural Ways to Lower Cortisol
- Meditation and yoga
How Exercise Decreases Cortisol
Exercise has a neurochemical effect on the brain; our brains produce chemicals in response to exercise. Although more research is needed, The Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice reports that aerobic exercise appears to have the greatest effect on reducing cortisol levels. Aerobics reduces levels of both adrenaline and cortisol while stimulating the production of endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
“According to Christopher Bergland of Psychology Today, just 20 to 30 minutes of an aerobic activity can reduce your cortisol levels.”1
Essential Oils that Decrease Cortisol
Based on modern research studies alone, I feel confident in recommending the following three essential oils to decrease your cortisol levels…
- Clary sage
Inhalation of clary sage oil has the ability to reduce cortisol by 36% and improve thyroid hormone levels (TSH). The cortisol change was greater in those with depression.
“The study was done on 22 post-menopausal women in their 50’s, some of which were diagnosed with depression and at the end of trial the researchers stated that ‘clary sage oil had a statistically significant effect on lowering cortisol and had an anti-depressant effect improving mood’. This is just one of the many studies proving clary sage oil benefits hormones.”2
It’s significant that clary sage has an anti-depressant effect. Pharmaceutical antidepressants also reduce cortisol levels, which is why they are prescribed to treat anxiety. Antidepressants have also been shown to help those who suffer from anxiety lose excess weight.
In aromatherapy, clary sage is used to treat stress, depression, insomnia, and anxiety. It is considered very effective in calming the nervous system. And, now, scientists have backed up centuries of anecdotal evidence with clinical proof.
Rosemary and Lavender
In a 2007 study, scientists measured the total salivary free radical scavenging activity (FRSA) induced after smelling lavender and rosemary essential oils. The 22 subjects of the study sniffed aroma for 5 minutes and then their saliva was collected immediately after.
“The FRSA values were increased by stimulation with low concentrations (1000 times dilution) of lavender or by high-concentrations (10 times dilution) of rosemary. In contrast, both lavender and rosemary stimulations decreased cortisol levels. A significant inverse correlation was observed between the FRSA values and the cortisol levels with each concentration of rosemary stimulation. No significant changes were noted in sIgA or α-amylase. These findings clarify that lavender and rosemary enhance FRSA and decrease the stress hormone, cortisol, which protects the body from oxidative stress.”3
Other studies on these essential oils demonstrated similar results. A study published in the journal Early Human Development showed that both behavior and cortisol levels were positively affected by the scent of lavender.
“The mothers in the lavender bath oil group were more relaxed, smiled and touched their infants more during the bath. Their infants looked at them a greater percentage of the bath time and cried less and spent more time in deep sleep after bath. The cortisol levels of this group of mothers and infants significantly decreased, confirming the behavioral data showing increased relaxation of the mothers and their infants. These findings support a body of research showing the relaxing and sleep-inducing properties of lavender aroma.”4
How Meditation and Yoga Decrease Cortisol
Scientists have been aware that meditation can decrease cortisol levels for decades. A study of 52 males 20-25 years old practicing Dhammakaya Buddhist meditation significantly lowered their cortisol levels. Meditation offered other health benefits as well.
“It was found that after meditation, serum cortisol levels were significantly reduced, serum total protein level significantly increased, and systolic pressure, diastolic pressure and pulse rate significantly reduced.”5
The moving meditation known as yoga has also demonstrated an ability to decrease cortisol levels. It appears that yoga changes the brain waves of practitioners and that change may decrease cortisol levels.
“We examined changes in brain waves and blood levels of serum Cortisol during yoga exercise in 7 yoga instructors and found that alpha waves increased and serum Cortisol decreased.”6
Herbs that Decrease Cortisol Levels
There are a surprising number of herbs that can decrease anxiety and, therefore, cortisol levels, but the following three herbs have the research to back up their cortisol-lowering abilities.
Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera)
One of the most important herbs in Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha, has been proven to decrease cortisol levels and increase the self-assessed quality of life for those who use it. A 2012 study examined the safety and effectiveness of ashwagandha for reducing stress and anxiety in adults under stress and improving their general wellbeing. This randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that ashwagandha could do all of these things.
The subjects who received ashwagandha experienced substantial reductions in their cortisol levels as well as an increased sense of well-being compared to the placebo group.
“The treatment group that was given the high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract exhibited a significant reduction (P<0.0001) in scores on all the stress-assessment scales on Day 60, relative to the placebo group. The serum cortisol levels were substantially reduced (P=0.0006) in the Ashwagandha group, relative to the placebo group. The adverse effects were mild in nature and were comparable in both the groups. No serious adverse events were reported. … The findings of this study suggest that a high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.”7
Hibiscus Flowers (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
Multiple research studies have demonstrated hibiscus’ ability to decrease stress, anxiety and cortisol levels. One study, in particular, showed that cortisol could affect both “good” and “bad” cholesterol negatively as well. And hibiscus proved capable of reversing these ill effects. Following is the study’s conclusion:
“The hypocholesterolemic effect of aqueous extract of Hibiscus sabdariffa has been shown by the dual effect it exhibited in lowering plasma total and LDL-cholesterol in the rabbits. Evidently, stress caused increased plasma level of the ‘bad cholesterol’ and a decrease in ‘good cholesterol’. Hibiscus sabdariffa calyx extract however caused a reverse of the changes brought about by the stress by decreasing ‘bad cholesterol” and increasing “good cholesterol”. Thus stress potentiates increased risk of cardiovascular diseases while Hibiscus sabdariffa calyx extract may prove beneficial in lipid disorder, and serve as a cardio-protective factor to prevent cardiovascular disease. It can therefore be concluded that Hibiscus sabdariffa is a good anti-stress agent.”8
Hibiscus is well-known for its ability to decrease high blood pressure. It is also recognized for its weight loss benefits. This study may have stumbled upon an explanation of how hibiscus can do these things and more.
Astragalus Root (Astragalus Membranaceus)
Astragalus root, like ashwagandha, is an adaptogen herb. Adaptogens are a specific class of healing herbs and are defined as natural substances believed to help the body adapt to stress and to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes. This is how herbs like astragalus root protect our health.
Numerous studies have proven astragalus root’s ability to decrease cortisol. It’s been suggested that astragalus root may accomplish this by reducing the ability of stress hormones like cortisol to bind to receptors.
“[Adaptogenic herbs] have the unique ability to simultaneously calm and energize largely by reducing the stress hormone cortisol and supporting exhausted adrenal glands. By definition, they are safe, increase resilience to stress, and promote overall health. Besides stress reduction, adaptogens offer many other benefits including improved mood, mental clarity, and physical stamina.”9
Astragalus root and ashwagandha are not the only adaptogen herbs that can decrease cortisol levels, but they are two of the most studied by modern researchers. And, unlike Licorice root, neither has been found to raise blood pressure in some users.
Foods that Decrease Cortisol Levels
One of the easiest ways to decrease your cortisol levels is through diet and nutrition. Cortisol levels are not just affected by anxiety and stress, inflammation in the body also plays a major role. There are few ways better to keep inflammation under control than by eating whole foods. Plant foods, in particular, are loaded with antioxidants – nature’s own anti-inflammation drug. This does not mean you have to become a vegan, however, eating more whole foods and fewer processed ones is the way to go. And you don’t have to go to extremes. Cutting down on processed foods and eating more whole foods, especially fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, will make a huge difference.
I have listed five natural ways to decrease cortisol levels, but these are not the only natural means to achieve the same effect. Something as simple as doing things you enjoy – be it a hobby or playing with your children or your pets – can also decrease your cortisol levels.
If you have any questions about the topic or want to share your own natural stress and cortisol relieving solutions, comment below or tweet me on Twitter.
1 Li, Piper. “What Kind of Exercise Reduces Cortisol Levels?” Livestrong, January 12, 2014. Web. August 2017
2 Axe, Josh, MD. “Top 3 Essential Oils to Balance Hormones Naturally”. Dr. Axe, n.d. Web. August 2017
3 T Atsumi and K Tonosaki. “Smelling lavender and rosemary increases free radical scavenging activity and decrease cortisol level in saliva”. Psychiatry Research, February 28, 2007, vol 150, issue 1. Web. August 2017
4 Field, Tiffany, Field, Tory, Cullen, Christy, et al. “Lavender bath oil reduces stress and crying and enhances sleep in very young infants”. Early Human Development, June 2008, vol 84 issue 6. Web. August 2017
5 R Sudsuang, V Chentanez, and K Veluvan. “Effect of Buddhist Meditation on Serum Cortisol and Total Protein Levels, Blood Pressure, Pulse Rate, Lung Volume and Reaction Time.” Physiology & Behavior, September 1991, vol 50, issue 3. Web. August 2017
6 T Kamei, Y Toriumi, H Kimura, et al. “Decrease in Serum Cortisol During Yoga Exercise is Correlated with Alpha Wave Activation”. Perceptual and Motor Skills, June 1, 2000. Web. August 2017
7 K Chandrasekhar, J Kapoor, and S Anishetty. “A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults”. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, July-September 2012. Web. August 2017
8 OG Agbadua and FO Obi. “Effect of Hibiscus Sabdariffa Calyx extract on stressed rabbit plasma cholesterol status”. Journal of Medicine and Biomedical Research, vol 14, no 1 (2015). Web. August 2017
9 Alban, Deane. “How Adaptogenic Herbs Reduce Cortisol and Stress”. Be Brain Fit, n.d. Web. August 2017
“Exercising to relax”. Harvard Health Publications / Harvard Medical School, February 2011. Web. August 2017
GE Cohen, MA and E Shamus, PT, Ph.D. “Depressed, Low Self-Esteem: What Can Exercise Do For You?” The Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice, vol 7 no 2. PDF. Web. August 2017
Axe, Josh, MD. “Get Your Cortisol Levels Under Control & Turn Down the Stress”. Dr. Axe, n.d. Web. August 2017
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