Cortisol is an important hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It's responsible for the "fight or flight" response attributed to stressful situations, and acts by increasing blood sugar. But, though useful in certain situations, chronically high cortisol levels have many negative side effects, including weakened immune response, insomnia and weight gain. Excess cortisol production is associated with high stress.
Relax. The best way to reduce cortisol is also the simplest. Anything that helps you relax will reduce overall stress and cortisol levels. Whether it's meditation, massage, yoga, music, acupuncture or sleep, when used regularly, these relaxation techniques can reverse the negative effects of chronically high cortisol.
Improve nutrition. Eating foods high in polyphenols and flavonoids, such as dark chocolate, red wine and black tea, can actually reduce cortisol production. Taking vitamin supplements, especially those rich in vitamin C, B5, B6 and magnesium, can help reverse damage caused by cortisol. Eating regular meals and moderating carbohydrate intake helps to maintain steady blood sugar levels and prevents unnecessary cortisol spikes.
Take cortisol blockers. If making lifestyle changes is simply not possible, it is possible to increase your intake of foods and herbs rich in chemicals that block cortisol from acting on the body at a cellular level. Phosphatidylserine, for example, is abundant in mackerel, herring, white beans, and the brain, liver and kidney of cows, chicken and pigs. It is is used to reduce the effect of cortisol produced through vigorous exercise. Ashwaghanda is an ayurvedic herb in the same family as the tomato, and a recognized adaptogen, which means it helps the nervous system regulate its response to stress. Rhodiola rosea, or golden root, is another adaptogenic herb that's readily available from an herbalist or naturopath.
Reduce stimulant intake. Cortisol production is increased by the use of stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine. Thus, quitting smoking or reducing coffee drinking can have immediate impacts on cortisol levels.
Chew gum. One U.K. study found that gum-chewing subjects under moderate stress had 12 percent lower salivary cortisol levels than non-chewers. The response is attributed to increased blood flow and neural activity in certain brain regions caused by the chewing motion.
Part of staying relaxed is getting plenty of sleep. Engaging in exercise and physical activity during the day is helpful in maintaining a healthy sleep cycle and a generally positive attitude overall.