Cortisol is an important natural hormone produced by the adrenal glands and is responsible for regulating many important body functions. Cortisol helps regulate glucose metabolism and control blood sugar levels, helps maintain normal blood pressure, supports healthy immune system function and helps moderate the inflammatory response. Cortisol also functions as a "stress hormone," helping to regulate our "fight or flight" response. There are several dietary supplements that can function as natural cortisol alternatives.
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According to a study published in the journal "Nature" in 2005, a compound found within extra virgin olive oil, or EVOO, has been shown to have a natural anti-inflammatory effect. This compound, oleocanthal, gives EVOO anti-inflammatory properties similar to that of cortisol and may account for this long-known benefit of a Mediterranean diet.
White Willow Bark
Since early Egyptian times 3,500 years ago, extracts from the bark of the white willow tree have been known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Known by its biological classification name, Salix alba, white willow bark contains the chemical agent salicin, which is closely related to salicilic acid, the active agent in aspirin. White willow bark is often consumed as a tea, brewed from dried bark.
Pycnogenol, a compound extracted from the bark of pine trees of the species Pinus pinaster atlantica, is rich in flavonoids and has been shown to have certain cortisol-like effects. In addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, pycnogenol also has the cortisol-like properties of regulating blood glucose and lowering blood pressure through its ability to relax blood vessels. Pycnogenol is available as a supplement in the form of powder or pill.
Flaxseed is rich in both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and can help lower blood sugar, or glucose, according to a study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. The primary active agent in flaxseed is alpha linolenic acid, a form of the omega-3 fatty acid family. The cortisol-mimicking effects of flaxseed can be obtained with either whole flaxseed or flaxseed oil.
Vitamins A, D and E, Selenium and Zinc
Antioxidant vitamins A, D and E along with the nutrients selenium and zinc have all been shown to have roles in regulating the immune system and should be considered as nutritional requirements to support this important function of cortisol. Broccoli, carrots and tomatoes are good sources of vitamin A and zinc. Vitamin D is presented in fortified milk and can be produced within the skin when exposed to adequate sunlight. Vitamin E can be found naturally in wheat germ, sunflower seeds and avocado. Selenium is found in seafood and meat.
- "Nature"; Phytochemistry: Ibuprofen-Like Activity in Extra-Virgin Olive Oil; G.K. Beauchamp, et al.; September 2005
- "Nutrition Research"; A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Prospective, 16 Week Crossover Study to Determine the Role of Pycnogenol in Modifying Blood Pressure in Mildly Hypertensive Patients; S. Hosseini, et al.; September 2001
- "Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics"; Can Linseed (flaxseed) Help to Regulate Blood Glucose Levels When Incorporated Into the Diabetic Diet?; S.K. Booth; October 2008
- The FASEB Journal: Nutrients as Regulators of Immune Function—Introduction
- "Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics"; Pycnogenol Supplementation Reduces Pain and Stiffness and Improves Physical Function in Adults with Knee Osteoarthritis; R. Farid, et al.; 2007