Cortisol is the primary hormone released by the body during times of stress. Although cortisol does have necessary functions in the body, such as regulating energy and dictating energy sources, elevated levels, particularity over extended periods of time, can have several negative side effects. Some of these effects can include muscle breakdown, immune depression, excess fat storage, high blood pressure, mood swings and insomnia.
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Relax Your Cortisol Away
Keeping your stress levels down is key in removing cortisol from the body, as stress is the primary trigger for cortisol release. Examples of stresses that can elevate cortisol include prolonged exercise, use of stimulants, being overweight, working long hours, worrying, involvement in stressed relationships, being unhappy, major life changes, chronic illness and financial obligations. While it's usually not possible to eliminate all stress from your life, there are many ways to promote relaxation, which counteracts stress and subsequently lowers cortisol. Examples include getting enough sleep, listening to relaxing music, meditation, massage, aromatherapy, exercise, sunlight, fresh air, good nutrition and vacations.
Omega-3s to the Rescue
Rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, can lower stress levels and subsequently reduce cortisol levels according to one study published in 2013 in “Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.” The study found that three weeks of fish oil supplementation resulted in a measurable decrease in cortisol levels. Dr. Barry Sears, who studies dietary control of hormonal response, writes in an article on CBN.com that high-dose fish oil is a “primary tool” for battling cortisol and stress levels and the damage they cause.
Don't Forget Your Vitamins and Supplements
B Complex vitamins, commonly called B-Stress vitamins can be effective in regulating stress and therefore keeping cortisol levels in check. One study published in the October 2011 issue of the “Human Psychopharmacology” journal indicates that a high dose of B complex vitamins is a cost effective treatment for strain associated with chronic work stress. Magnesium and vitamin C are two other important nutrients for reducing stress and lowering cortisol levels, according to an article on Explore Integrative Medicine, a website that is part of the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine. Herbs that may help reduce cortisol include rhodiola, ginseng, green tea and valerian.
Exercise, Caffeine and Alcohol
Although intense or prolonged exercise can put excessive stress on the body and raise cortisol levels, it's important to note that low intensity exercise actually reduces cortisol. A study published in the “Journal of Endocrinological Investigation” in July 2008 indicates that exercise, performed at 40 percent intensity, can lower circulating cortisol levels. And an article published in the February 2011 issue of the "Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science" journal notes that caffeine and alcohol can also increase cortisol levels.