How to decrease cortisol levels

Updated February 21, 2017

Cortisol is a necessary hormone in the body, even though it has a lot of negative press. Cortisol is activated during stress, and aids the body by deciding what type of energy it should have to meet its physiological needs during that stress (carbs, protein or fat.) While cortisol regulates and mobilises energy, if we have too much of it, it produces a number of negative side effects, from raising blood sugar to weight gain to lowering immunity. Since cortisol is produced during times of stress, there are nutritional and lifestyle changes we can make to reduce stress and in turn decrease our levels of cortisol.

Check your protein intake and make sure you are getting enough high quality protein. According to nutritionist and author Donna Gates, studies show that low protein consumption can lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels. Choose your protein wisely, however, to keep fat intake down. Lean cuts of meat such as chicken and fish, along with beans and nuts, are excellent protein sources.

Add Omega 3s to your diet. Omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and cortisol levels. Excellent sources of Omega 3s are flaxseeds, walnuts, kidney and navy beans, olive oil, winter squash and fresh cold water fish such as salmon and tuna. Sprinkle some flaxseeds on your salad and add some olive oil, or grab a handful of walnuts for a snack.

Go for gluten-free grains. High gluten foods such as those with processed flours (pastas, breads) lead to inflammation in the intestinal tract. Inflammation will lead to secrection of cortisol. Gluten free grains are quinoa, millet, amaranth and buckwheat.

Eat foods with a low glycemic load (GL). The glycemic load of a food tells us how quickly it enters the bloodstream, and this glycemic load afftects cortisol levels for up to 5 hours. Foods with an automatic high glycemic load are those with refined flours and sugars, such as breads and pastries and most pastas, all of which should be avoided. Examples of foods with a low glycemic load are beans, carrots, apples and pears.

Supplement daily with Vitamin C. Stress depletes vitamin C stores in the body, and vitamin C helps reduce cortisol levels.

Meditate. Meditation is a proven way to relieve stress. Take a few moments out of your busy day, light a candle or just sit and watch the scenery. Meditation calms the senses and reduces stress in the body, and in turn reducing cortisol production. Try a simple yoga pose while meditating to allow energy to flow freely throughout the body.

Have a massage. Massages relax the body and the mind, dropping stress levels (and cortisol levels) almost immediately. Even a massage as simple as a foot rub. If you have no one to give one to you, give it to yourself on any part of your body. Even a scalp massage is relaxing.

Take a bath. Add 1/2 cup of Epsom salts and 1/2 cup of baking soda to your bathwater. The salts and baking soda help draw toxins out of the body, and the bath helps you to relax and de-stress. Add a little lavender oil to the water and light a candle and you have a mini spa retreat right at home.

Exercise. Regular exercise, whether it is a fun game of tennis or a walk around the block, produces endorphins. These are the body's "feel good" hormones, which reduce stress.

Get a good night's sleep. Be in bed by 10:00 p.m. Shut off the T.V. and the lights. Cortisol levels typically lower naturally at night, but if you don't relax and get to bed on time, they can stay elevated continuously.


Exercise doesn't have to be boring. Grab a friend and go for a walk, and even just having someone to talk to will reduce stress and subsequently, cortisol levels.


If you are on any medications, or have serious health issues, speak to your physician before adding any vitamin supplements to your diet or adding an exercise routine.

Things You'll Need

  • Proteins (lean meats, beans, nuts)
  • Omega 3 fats
  • Gluten free grains
  • Low glycemic foods
  • Vitamin C
  • Meditation time
  • Massage
  • Exercise
  • Epsom salt
  • Baking soda
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About the Author

A certified nutritionist who majored in health, fitness and nutrition, Traci Vandermark has been writing articles in her specialty fields since 1998. Her articles have appeared both online and in print for publications such as Simple Abundance, "Catskill Country Magazine," "Birds and Blooms," "Cappers" and "Country Discoveries."