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What Happens When Cortisol Level Is High In The Body & Best Ways To Reduce Cortisol

Cortisol is the stress hormone which is made by the adrenal glands in the adrenal cortex. Cortisol is a big part of the body’s “fight or flight” response, and it is activated during times of excessive stress. Though cortisol is required for our body, when it is imbalanced, or in excess, it can result in several ill health conditions. It is thus important to have the cortisol in balance. In this article we will talk about what happens when cortisol level is high in the body and some of the best ways to reduce cortisol.

What Happens When Cortisol Level Is High In The Body?

High level of cortisol results in several health conditions such as weight gain, headaches, low libido, depression, anxiety, insomnia, decline in cognitive level, low energy, blood sugar problems, infertility, skipped menstrual periods, osteoporosis, gut problems, and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, when cortisol level is high, it affects the thyroid, and under stress, the thyroid hormone gets converted to reverse T3 (which is the inactive form) instead of the active form or T3.

Best Ways To Reduce Cortisol:

Below are some of the ways to reduce cortisol.

Some Supplements To Reduce Cortisol:

There are some supplements that lower the cortisol levels. These cortisol-lowering supplements are a diverse group including herbs, certain fats, compounds which are found in specific foods, and some core nutrients.

Magnesium. Magnesium is the mineral that is known as the nature’s “relaxation mineral” and is in use in more than 300 reactions in our body. The responsiveness of the adrenal glands is reduced by this mineral. Many of us have magnesium deficiency and it can be a really great tool for reducing the chronic high levels of cortisol in the body. There is a magnesium glycinate form of the mineral which helps in reducing cortisol or the stress hormone level, because the amino acid glycine is a calming amino acid and it has minimal side effects.

Vitamins. Vitamins, especially the vitamin B; B6, B9 and B12; are even required for reducing cortisol level and modulate our stress response. Chronic stress may make it more essential for us to supplement with vitamins B and magnesium, as during chronic stress, these nutrients are likely to be excreted

Fish Oil. One more supplement that helps us to reduce cortisol is the fish oil. This is an excellent supplement source of the Omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil supplements are known to have positive effects on the functions of brain, including the memory, mood, cognition, and overall mental wellbeing. (1)

Fish oil can be regarded quite beneficial for people having mental or psychological disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, depression, schizophrenia and ADHD. (2)
DHA, an omega-3 present in the fish oil, is an important structural component of the brain cells. There are several studies which report that the fish oil blunts our stress response and also effectively reduce the levels of cortisol in the humans. (3, 4, 5)

Phosphatidylserine Or PS: Phosphatidylserine or PS is naturally occurring fat that occurs in high concentration in the brain as well as the nervous system. (6)

Phosphatidylserine keeps the level of cortisol low, and thus reduces the effects of mental as well as physical stress. (7, 8)

PS is an excellent brain supplement. In fact, Phosphatidylserine is the only supplement that received approval from the United States FDA for cognitive decline as well as dementia. (9)

There are a number of studies that have measured the effects of Phosphatidylserine on the stress that is experienced by most athletes, like golfers, runners or Olympians. (10, 11, 12)

During these research studies, researchers discovered that PS, not only reduces the level of cortisol, but also increases the physical performance and also reduces the post-exercise soreness of muscles and even recovery time. (13)

Prebiotics: The foods containing insoluble fibers or the fibers that the good intestinal or gut bacteria feed on, are known as prebiotics.

However; ingesting prebiotic fibers suppresses our stress response and also reduces the level of cortisol in the body. (14)

You can purchase the prebiotic fiber supplements; however, a lot of common foods even contain the prebiotic fiber; and these foods include wheat, oats, bananas, apples, onions, garlic, tomatoes and also chocolates. (15, 16, 17)

So, whenever you are stressed and tempted to eat unhealthy comfort food, go for a snack containing one or more of the prebiotic foods. (18)

L-Theanine. L-theanine is one amino acid that is present in almost exclusively in green, black, and white tea. It is most widely considered as a great source for inducing a mental state of “calm attentiveness.” This occurs because the amino acid reduces the cortisol level.

Herbal Supplements To Reduce Cortisol:

Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera is one traditional adaptogenic herb that is primarily used for treating anxiety. It helps in treating several mental and physical effects of stress. There are a lot of studies which confirm that this herb is a potential cortisol buster. It reduces the levels of cortisol significantly, especially in the chronically stressed individuals, by about 30%. (19, 20, 21)

Holy Basil. Holy basil or Ocimum sanctum is a herb which aids in normalizing the function of endocrine glands and also promotes a healthy stress response and is thus known as an adaptogenic herb containing ocimumosides, essential for reducing the levels of cortisol and glucose and also in improving the balance of neurotransmitter.

Bacopa. There is one more ayurvedic herb, known as Bacopa or Bacopa monnieri; that is known to be both, an adaptogen as well as a nootropic herb; a substance that enhances the person’s mental performance quite safely.

Traditionally bacopa has been used for treating insomnia, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and disorders of the heart, digestive system and lung diseases. (22, 23)

KeenMind, or a patented standardized bacopa extract was given to healthy adults and they experienced a reduction in the levels of cortisol and also improvements in their mood and their ability to perform certain mental tasks. (24)

Gingko. There is another popular memory supplements known as Ginkgo or Ginkgo biloba; however, it does not work as a great memory enhancer. (25)

There have been a dozens of studies conducted on thousands of people to find out the effects of gigkgo, and it was found that the herb did very little at improving their memory or at preventing mental health decline in specific healthy adults.(26, 27)

However; it must be mentioned that Ginkgo can reduce the blood pressure and also the symptoms of stress by reducing the levels of cortisol. (28)

Reducing Cortisol By Healthy Lifestyle Changes:

There are a lot of ways to improve your lifestyle and lead a healthy life. This not only keeps you physically fit, but also helps you reduce cortisol and the stress levels and also keeps your mind calm and at peace. Here we will talk about some of the best ways to reduce cortisol by making some healthy lifestyle changes.

Exercise. You need to exercise well, especially if you have a stressful desk job all day. Exercising lowers the levels of cortisol, improves the mood and assists you in having a good night sleep. Even 20-30 minutes of aerobics can make a great difference in reducing cortisol levels.

However, you need to not that you must not exercise very hard to experience a reduction in stress. In fact, exercising in excess or exercising strenuously increases the levels of cortisol. (29)

You can try mind-body exercises such as yoga or tak chi, which are known to be excellent stress relievers. (30)

Eat Good Diet. “We are what we eat!” If you want to reduce the levels of cortisol then you must eat mindfully and in a healthy manner. You need to eat a balanced diet and pat very much attention to the intake of sugar.

Some of the foods that can help you to keep the levels of cortisol stable are bananas, dark chocolates, pears, green or black tea, probiotics found in foods like yogurt. Apart from all these, you must drink a lot of water and keep yourself well hydrated to reduce the cortisol level.

Get Enough Sleep. Sleep is very much essential for everyone and improper sleep can cause stress in you. You need at least 6-8 hours of sound sleep every night. By sleeping well you can experience a drop in cortisol level naturally. Moreover, you also need to sleep schedule, like going to bed every night at 10 pm and getting up at 6 am; can also help you in lowering the levels of cortisol.

It is found from a study of 2017, from Johns Hopkins University, that if sleep apnea is left untreated, it raises the levels of blood sugar and also the levels of stress hormone, including cortisol. (31) So, it is important for you to treat any condition like sleep apnea and have good night sleep.

Get Creative. Do you love being creative? Want to reduce cortisol levels or stress levels? Then, hold a coloring book, paint brush, colors, or play-doh and let the creative things flow out from you and you get relaxed.

A study from Drexel University conduction during 2016 found that even 45 minutes of art creation, can reduce the levels of cortisol in a significant manner. (32)

Relax. One of the finest lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce cortisol is by keeping yourself relax with the relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness or meditation; which relaxes you rapidly and also help you in reducing the level of cortisol.

You can even try deep breathing to reduce the cortisol level. You must have noticed that when you are under severe stress, your chest becomes tight and breathing gets faster and shallower. Unfortunately, most of the adults in current time breathe this manner most of the time. You can however; learn to breathe consciously right from your diaphragm; and by doing this, at least for a few minutes you can reduce the cortisol level and also stimulate the PNS for inducing a state of calm. (33)

Massage. There are a number of studies that demonstrated the wonderful benefits of massage for individuals experiencing several forms of mental, psychological and physical stress.

It has been found that massage not only relaxes you but also significantly reduces the levels of cortisol. (34)


It is true that having an excess of cortisol in your blood can cause a lot of damage to the health; especially in case the levels of cortisol remains high for an extended period of time. So, it is always important for you to lower the level of stress you take and it could be the best way to reduce cortisol. You can make specific lifestyle changes, drink plenty of water and remain hydrated, and reduce the stress amount and keep the level of cortisol quite normal.

NOTE: It is important for you to drink lots of water because being dehydrated is one physical stressor that might increase the level of cortisol. (35)


  1. https://examine.com/supplements/fish-oil/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15907142
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20932294
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12909818
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23390041
  6. https://examine.com/supplements/phosphatidylserine/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1325348
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15512856
  9. https://www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/ucm072756.htm
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9659680/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2503954/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2217563/
  13. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-992/phosphatidylserine
  14. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00213-014-3810-0
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20089145
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26511097
  17. https://www.medicinenet.com/probiotics/article.htm#what_are_microbes_and_their_role_in_our_health
  18. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-is-dark-chocolate-good-for-you-thank-your-microbes/
  19. https://examine.com/supplements/ashwagandha/
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573577/
  22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15898709
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20850955
  24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23788517
  25. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/ginkgo-biloba-stop-cognitive-decline/story?id=9448315
  26. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/185120?resultClick=24#joc90143t2
  27. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/hup.2259
  28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12369732
  29. https://www.physiology.org/doi/abs/10.1152/jappl.1993.74.2.882
  30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24049209
  31. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170831101454.htm
  32. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160615134946.htm
  33. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573542/
  34. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16162447
  35. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17006802
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 15, 2022

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