Cortisol is a hormone made in the adrenal cortex that is responsible for helping the body utilize protein, glucose and fats. Although cortisol performs necessary functions in the body, there is often a concern when there are high cortisol level symptoms.
In today's fast-paced society, elevated cortisol is a problem for many due to its role in the human stress response. Many people are looking for ways to balance the negative effects of excess cortisol through diet and supplements to reduce cortisol.
How Cortisol Affects the Body
When a person faces a stressful event, big or small, complex or simple, there is a reaction in the body. With the many demands people face today, this reaction, which evolved to protect us from threats, can start to cause problems. According to the Mayo Clinic, when a stressful event occurs, your hypothalamus alerts the body.
This creates a chain reaction of nerve and hormonal responses that trigger the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol increases glucose in the bloodstream while halting all non-essential bodily functions so the stressed individual can fight or flee.
When people feel consistently stressed due to their lifestyle or circumstances, this stress response can linger, causing detrimental health problems such as weight gain, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, headaches, digestive problems, issues with memory and concentration, as well as heart disease. Luckily, the Mayo Clinic reports that a healthy diet with plenty of vitamins can help counteract the effects of stress and elevated cortisol levels.
What Vitamins Help Balance Cortisol?
While it is important to eat a balanced diet with many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, there are some particular vitamins in foods that reduce cortisol. Namely, B vitamins help to manage cortisol levels. According to a December 2016 review in the journal European Food Research and Technology, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 help to bolster the activity of the GABAergic system.
This is significant because GABA is a chemical compound that affects the hormonal control of cortisol. Additionally, vitamins B1 and B2 were found to help keep cortisol levels low during times of stress in athletes, and they also aided in reducing muscle pain and aiding the recovery process, which are normally hampered by elevated cortisol levels.
The Office on Women's Health says that B vitamins help reduce feelings of stress due to their ability to regulate nerves and brain cells. They suggest consuming foods that reduce cortisol, that are rich in B vitamins, such as dark green leafy vegetables, avocados, fish, bananas and chicken.
Vitamin C has been examined as a potential aid in balancing cortisol levels for many years. However, the European Food Research and Technology review of the current research suggests that vitamin C is mainly useful to buffer sudden psychological stress-induced cortisol increases, but not overall concentration levels of cortisol. In this case, 3,000 mg of vitamin C per day was the dosage taken.
Vitamin D for Cortisol
While there are not a large number of vitamins that are proven without a doubt to affect cortisol levels continuously, it is important to note that high cortisol levels can cause an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone loss, according to Harvard Medical School. For help with this, it is a good idea to consume vitamin D foods and perhaps a supplement.
Foods high in vitamin D are fortified dairy products, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, mushrooms, beef liver and egg yolks. If you take vitamin D in a supplement form, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 600 IUs a day for adults up to 71 years of age and 800 IUs after that.
Speak to a physician before taking any new supplement.
- European Food Research and Technology:"The Effect of Diet Components on the Level of Cortisol"
- National Cancer Institute: "NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms: Cortisol"
- Mayo Clinic: "Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk"
- Office on Women's Health: "Stress and Your Health"
- Harvard Health: "Eight Things You Should Know About Osteoporosis and Fracture Risk"
- National Institutes of Health:"Vitamin D"