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Just this past week I got my AM cortisol tested and found out that I have very high cortisol. The symptoms I’m experiencing, like fast heart rate are terrible…….so, I have been desperately researching what I can find for a solution for how to reduce cortisol naturally. I thought for this post I would share what I found, what I am trying, and the things that are helping me right now, hoping that I can help someone or we could share ideas and find out what works best.
Having high cortisol is a common problem that many people have and some don’t even know that cortisol is the reason for their health problems. Fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and unintentional weight gain or loss are just a few of the symptoms. But, having problems with cortisol can also be much more severe. It can stop you in your tracks, affecting your everyday life!
If you have high cortisol, then you have adrenal fatigue. There are 4 stages of adrenal fatigue, ranging from mild to full on adrenal exhaustion and adrenal crisis. This article has an excellent description of each stage and the symptoms.
The worst part is you can go to the doctors with very visible symptoms and they don’t even think of testing cortisol. This is what happened to me. Over the past 4 months, I went to 6 different doctors, the ER, and finally, just this week, a doctor tested my cortisol. Yet, cortisol issues are treatable and it would be best find out as soon as possible if that is the cause of your symptoms so you can take steps to correct it and feel better.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a hormone made by the adrenal glands which is essential to almost every process in the body and also for maintaining homeostasis. When the body is under stress, it goes into fight or flight response, which activates cells firing and the increase of adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol increases in response to the stress, but after a while it can’t keep up with the extra effort and begins to decrease as the body can’t keep up with the demand.
Typically, higher levels of cortisol are seen in the first few beginning stages of adrenal fatigue and in the later stages of adrenal fatigue, the levels drop lower as the adrenals become more exhausted.
Or you could have a variation of both, having too little cortisol at certain times of the day and too much at other times as cortisol levels drastically change throughout the course of the day. This is what I’m suspecting is going on with mine, but I won’t know for sure until I get the results of my 24 hour cortisol test.
Symptoms of High Cortisol:
- Lack of energy
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Brain fog
- Crave salt and feel better when you eat something with sugar
- Feel worse in the morning, such as stomachache
- Difficulty sleeping
- Decreased immune system and slowed wound healing
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate/palpitations
- Face feels flushed
Symptoms of Low Cortisol:
- Dizzy, faint
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Decreased blood pressure
- Difficulty sleeping
- Anxiety, nervousness
- Increased heart rate/palpitations
- Feel “weird”
You may have just a few or many of the symptoms, depending on the person. Many of the symptoms for high cortisol and low cortisol are the same, so it’s hard to determine which you have without a cortisol test. Based on my symptoms, I was expecting my cortisol to turn out low, but it turned out high. For me, my symptoms currently are: increased heart rate (tachycardia because it’s over 100 bpm), chest pain, dizzy, hungry all the time, sweaty hands and feet, trouble sleeping, fatigue, weight loss (10lbs and can’t gain weight no matter how much I eat), and feeling much worse in the morning and but a little better after lunch.
What Causes High Cortisol?
- Stress- Typically, just removing the stressful thing will not eliminate the high cortisol because your adrenals need to recover. Depending on the severity of adrenal dysfunction it may take several months to up to 18 months to completely recover.
- Injury, illness, or surgery
- Birth control pills, pregnancy
- Liver dysfunction, kidney problems
- Cushing’s Syndrome
- Disorders of the adrenal glands
- Use of corticosteroids
At first, I was thinking my high cortisol was caused by the stress I had from working a stressful job last year. But, the cause of my cortisol is more of an unusual one. My high cortisol is a result of the stress of vitamin A toxicity on my body and liver. It’s been nearly 4 months since I found out I had vitamin A toxicity and stopped taking anything with vitamin A, but since the half-life of vitamin A is said to be about 80 days, it probably won’t be out of my system until sometime in May. I’m hoping that as soon as all the vitamin A is out of my system, the stress and inflammation it caused will be reduced and my cortisol level will improve. To help this along, I’m trying to decrease the cortisol as much as possible with these 15 ways on how to reduce cortisol, so I can feel better until the vitamin A is completely out of my system.
How to Get Your Cortisol Tested:
You’ll want to do an AM cortisol blood test which is done fasting, preferably 20 minutes after waking up because that’s when your cortisol spikes to its highest. Even better than just doing that one test, would be the 24 hour cortisol test because this will give more information on your cortisol levels throughout the day and at night. If you have a good primary/internal medicine doctor they may test it for you this way, otherwise an endocrinologist or naturopath should be willing to do it.
15 Ways to Reduce Cortisol
1. Add a good amount of sea salt to every meal! Sea salt can heal your adrenals. Make sure you only use quality sea salt like this or pink Himalayan salt. This is the most important thing to do decrease high cortisol! High cortisol depletes salt. I felt a difference just after one day of adding it to almost everything I ate.
2. Eat salt, vitamin C, protein, and fat with every meal. This provides the beneficial nutrients of the salt and vitamin C to help the adrenals without spiking blood sugar by having it with fat and protein.
For example, for breakfast I now have eggs with meat and sea salt, an orange, and a tablespoon of coconut oil. I feel a huge difference having this compared to anything else. It’s especially important in the morning because this is when cortisol spikes and I feel really terrible.
3. Magnesium. Many studies have shown magnesium reduces cortisol. I was originally doing Epsom salt foot baths every day to get my magnesium, but I ran out and started doing magnesium flake foot baths and WOW, I saw a huge improvement! I’m not sure why, but these magnesium flakes seem to work much better. Many others have commented on this but I can’t find any research as to why. You have to soak in the magnesium flakes for 1 full hour, whether you do it in a tub or make a foot bath to get the full benefits.
4. Sleep. Try to get at least 8 hours of good sleep. This can be extremely difficult to do with high cortisol because usually cortisol problems make it difficult to sleep. Try to do everything you can to improve sleep. My sleep has been improving since I now do a magnesium foot bath right before bed, wear blue-light blocking glasses, watch a relaxing TV show, and eat something with zinc for dinner (usually pumpkin seeds). Zinc has been shown to decrease cortisol levels.
5. Massage therapy and dry brushing. This study found it to decrease cortisol and increase dopamine. I usually do it before bed to help me sleep better.
6. Foot Reflexology. Try doing some self-foot reflexology as it has been shown to decrease stress and fatigue. Here’s a brief helpful guide to get you started.
7. Dancing. Non-strenuous dancing can greatly decrease cortisol levels.
8. Laughing. Having fun and laughing has been found to reduce serum cortisol levels. Try watching a funny tv show or videos on Youtube when feeling stressed.
9. Yoga. Try to do some yoga as this study found those who practiced it had a significant drop in cortisol levels. You can find great relaxing yoga videos to follow on Youtube.
10. Eat every 2 hours to keep your blood sugar stable. Eat smaller meals more frequently. This will prevent spikes in insulin production.
11. Take a vitamin C supplement. Next to increasing your salt intake, the next best way to combat high cortisol is increase your vitamin C. Vitamin C has been shown to significantly decrease cortisol production. The majority of studies that found decreases in cortisol involved taking 1,000 to 1,5000mg of vitamin C a day. In addition to eating oranges, berries, and other citrus fruits, I started taking this natural food based vitamin C supplement. It is better than typical vitamin C supplements because it isn’t synthetic and doesn’t contain GMO’s.
12. Try to relax as much as possible. Take breaks from work as much as possible, practice deep breathing, take a nap or try meditation.
13. Decrease exposure to blue light, particularly 3 hours before bed. When you’re exposed to bright lights, TV, computer, or light from your phone before bed, the blue light and green light they emit significantly suppress your body’s production of melatonin. Adequate levels of melatonin are necessary as they are crucial to the sleep cycle. Disrupting melatonin production can make it difficult to get to sleep and affect the quality of your sleep throughout the night. To keep good melatonin levels, I now turn off all my lights at 8pm, use blue-light blocking glasses, and put this plastic film of rubylith over my TV and computer screen to block the blue-light and green-light. If you don’t mind spending a little more, these blue-light blocking glasses are a lot more comfortable than the inexpensive ones, but both work just as well.
14. Avoid all caffeine, alcohol, stress, negativity and strenuous exercise. Your body needs to rest to recover. All of these have been found to directly increase cortisol. In one study, use of caffeine showed an increase in cortisol by 30% in just one hour, yikes!
15. Herbs and Foods that have been found to decrease cortisol: Wild caught salmon, black tea, ashwaganda, rhodiola, holy basil, chamomile tea, garlic, berries, and oranges. (I haven’t tried all of these yet, but will be adding more into my regimen this week, like the rhodiola and black tea)
How these methods for lowering cortisol are working for me
I’ve noticed a huge improvement from adding sea salt to all my meals in just 2 days. I felt like I had a lot more energy from it. The magnesium flake foot baths have also been helping a lot! I feel an immediate difference after doing it each time.
Have you ever had high cortisol? Do you have any other tips that have helped you reduce cortisol?
Lori, I’ve tried tVNS and it seems to help a bit as well as large doses of Magnesium (+500 mg/day) to offset decades of deficiency. Have you heard of tVNS? What are your thoughts?
I have been struggling with high cortisol for years! Nothing seems to help! I have a voice condition that whenever I am stressed I can’t speak. My throat gets so tight. I am a singer too so this is no bueno. I have tried supplements, relaxation, but when I encounter a stress my cortisol spikes for at least 2 days! Please help!!!!
Try Seriphos it lowers high cortisol and helps you sleep
Hi I believe I’m having a adrenal fatigt crisis. Every day I wake up shaking and heart racing, I can’t gain weight now and I have lost alot. The brain fog is terrible and I’m to the point where sometimes I feel like i can faint. Blurry vision and everything. Please tell me this can be naturally healed.
I had a lot of similar symptoms. Have you had your cortisol checked by your doctor?
I was wondering whether your high cortisol issue has resolved over the last few years? Or if it is still an issue? I’ve been battling with mine for almost 2 years now.
Yes, mine was back to normal about 2 years later. My cortisol levels are great now! Some of that time, I did not know how to reduce cortisol naturally, so I probably could have resolved my cortisol sooner if I had known.
So, regarding adding salt to your meals…i also have hypothyroidism that i’m being treated for. Is it better to use iodozed salt or the Himalayan salt in this case?
My doctor recommended for me to use sea salt and Himalayan salt.
There are some excellent studies showing that krill oil lowers cortisol. I have been in high anxiety for about a month now, but recently realized that I do much better when I take the krill oil supplement. 500mg, though I may increase it. Mine spikes when I wake up and then just won’t switch off. Also I’d like to add a warning: this all started when I took a megadose of vitamin B12. I had taken that dose before a month or two back, but this time I took it when I was feeling anxious, and had looked up where it said it was good for anxiety. Bad idea. Google the two together and you’ll find a thread of other people who had the same problem.
Thank you for sharing what has helped you!
Wow, lots of good information. I have been reading and trying to follow Dr. Alan Christianson’s book, The Adrenal Reset Diet. He is a Naturpathic Endocrinologist. He gives lots of good ideas that I have not previously seen. His whole program revolves around strategically cycling carbs and proteins to balance your hormones. Takes some focus and commitment which some of us may not have right now, but I think it’s worth it. I am always on the alert for “Natural” solutions to a high cortisol condition. My cortisol tested extremely high in the early morning hours. This use to make me crazy. Have to watch your sugar/ glucose levels as a high cortisol level will increase your blood sugars values on a blood test. I have tried diligently to remove any form of sugar whether natural or otherwise. I feel completely sick if I get even the smallest amount of sugar in the morning. Unfortunately, this has not lead to any weight loss for me, which is something I have to continually deal with despite my Whole Foods diet. You may find that restricting your calories may result in even higher cortisol output as this will activate your “flight or fight” response making you feel terrible. One of my favorite and easiest suggestions that I got from the book was to include broccoli sprouts into your diet. I have easily found ways to add these to my diet. Dr. Christianson recommends aiming for consuming 1 container per week. He says that doing this alone will reduce your cortisol output by 20% or more. In summary having any cortisol issue is a challenge but something that needs to be addressed and controlled in whatever way works for you.
Thanks for sharing Ann 🙂
Thank you once again for this site. This is really the only place where I found concrete advice that helped. My heart goes out to all of you still experiencing this. As we all know, it is just AWFUL.
I wanted to post back with a positive message, however. I went through this starting in May 2017. It is now mid-October and I think I am fully recovered. I ended up not taking the Escitalopram that was prescribed because my symptoms started resolving around the same time. So what caused my symptoms and what cured them? I can’t say I know for sure but I thought I should share what I do know in the hopes that it will help someone else (I know I was desperately seeking anyone similar to myself who might have the answers).
I believe my stress reaction (I hate the word stress as, to me, it seems to imply you have the ability to just calm yourself down, which I do NOT think is the case, but what else should we call it?) started with Perimenopause. I am in my mid-40s and my periods had gotten unbelievably heavy and often. I became anemic and my Gyn suggested birth control. After a very short time on BC (about a week and a half), my body freaked out. My main symptoms were racing pulse, high blood pressure, and anxiety. I would wake at 3am every night like clockwork with my pulse racing. I also got very sick to my stomach and lost about 20 pounds in only a month. I took several trips to the ER and was absolutely desperate for anything that would fix the problem.
Things that might have helped me:
-Stopping all hormones (obviously!)
-Slow Flow by Vitanica: I am able to completely control my menstrual bleeding with this amazing product. Between this and some Iron, my Anemia was quickly resolved even though my problem was serious enough that the doctors were pushing me toward a hysterectomy. I honestly still can’t believe how effective this stuff is. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it is saving my life.
-Vitamin D: my Vitamin D tested low (20) and I started taking 5000IU of Vitamin D. My VitD is now 28 (still low but better).
-Magnesium: I had already been taking magnesium, but my Naturopath recommended I take higher doses. I am taking 125mg of Magnesium Taurate x 3: 1 in the am and 2 at night. As a side note, the pvcs that I had been having for 3 years disappeared. Probably due to finally getting enough magnesium in my body?
-Nature Throid: I tested as slightly hypothyroid and I started taking the lowest dose (65mg). My thyroid is now testing in the low-normal range.
-Amlodopine: went through trying just about every blood pressure med out there and most just weren’t doing a thing in the state I was in. The high BP was new and was clearly triggered by my stress reaction or whatever this was. Amlodopine (a calcium channel blocker) was the only one that finally got the BP down. I am hoping to wean off it soon.
-I tried to eat very cleanly (whole foods focusing on meat and veg), but I was trying to do so before. Personally, I think beating ourselves up about the food we eat (which I totally did) is only a road to more stress. If you don’t have obvious symptoms related to food, stop worrying about the food (imho). However, I have been insanely attracted to oranges for the last few months and maybe that helped.
-I tried many relaxation techniques during this time period including massage, sauna, infrared sauna, binaural music, lavender tea, chamomile, melatonin, etc. While they were slightly helpful temporarily I personally do not think relaxation techniques are enough to get rid of the issue.
Because of this issue, I left the doctor that I had been seeing for over 20 years (she showed absolutely no understanding of the issue and was unwilling to even test for things like Vit D or Thyroid or Cortisol). I went through a string of doctors and finally found a Naturopath (Naturopaths are not officially licensed in my state) who helped me greatly and referred me to a doctor who would be open to appropriate testing and prescriptions. Searching for decent help while I was going through all of this was the worst, but I am so glad I kept trying!
Please know that there is hope. It takes time, but make positive changes and try not to worry too much and your body will find a way to heal! When you are in the middle of it all it’s easy to feel despair, and not everyone has the same cause or solution, but persistence in finding the right things for your body along with giving yourself the luxury of time to heal will pay off!
Thank you Lina 🙂
Lots of great suggestions. Have you ever experimented with GABA or melatonin for sleep issues related to high cortisol?
I have had adrenal fatigue before and under the care of a naturopath I was able to control it.
Now I think I have it again due to stress from school. I don’t have a lot of money to see a naturopath right now and buy supplements. But I need to sleep. I don’t crave foods or eat a whole lot, but when I do it’s organic veggies and fish. Lots of sea salt.
Just all of a sudden I can’t sleep. I feel like I’m going crazy. I try from 10-3 then wake up at 5-7 maybe sleep again 7-9. I need to regulate my sleep. I am already taking magnesium, vitamin c and have been for some time. This no sleep thing just happened 2 weeks ago.
That’s why I need something like GABA or melatonin to sleep. Any advice on sleep????? I take baths, meditate, eat healthy (but probably <1200 cal and I'm 100 pounds). I just wake up every time wide awake heart pounding. I need help.
Oh my gosh this sounds exactly like me 2 years ago! I hate to say this as I have a strong anti pharma med stance, but I was put on a benzo to help me sleep (I only took it for 5 days). I began spraying mag oil in my feet about an hour before I tried to fall asleep. Still to this day I have no clue what caused the insomnia and heart pounding. Indortjnatley, I struggle with getting deep sleep (among other health issues!), But at least I sleep. I hope you get some answers as I know how lack of sleep makes you feel like you’re literally going crazy! Sending hugs!!
Oh dear me, that was supposed to say “unfortunately” I struggle….
I tried melatonin once for sleep (not for cortisol issues. It actually made my sleep worse, which was surprising. I have many friends and family that say it helps them sleep.
Melatonin made my sleep worse too. I think it makes some sense–Melatonin is a hormone after all. If a person is having hormone issues at all, adding another one probably isn’t going to help.
Thanks please send updates
What about exercise. What is the best to help reduce cortisol
Is there any good excerise to help reduce stress?
Walking and yoga are great exercises that don’t create stress on the body.
Hi Shannon, My pressure has gone up at times with high cortisol. There are several supplements that you can try. The one I know works is called Michaels (Naturopathic program) Blood Pressure Factors. You might look on Amazon to see the variety and try one. I get heart palp. at times too and use a product called heart calm and it really works…..hope this help…Kaye
I guess I should add that I am trying to reduce my cortisol and and reduce my blood pressure/anxiety etc….thanks!
i have really high blood pressure with mine…so I am not supposed to eat salt….anyone else have this and what do yall recommend? thanks so much!
I would focus on using the other methods listed above that don’t interfere with blood pressure 🙂
Hi Dave, just an FYI…. I use a vitamin d from a company called Biotics. its a special made formula that is water soluble and comes in drops. They have a 200 and a 2000 dose drop. It bypasses the liver. You might want to check it out. You can get it on Amazon. I originally got mine from my ND. But now get it from Amazon. Its around 20,00 a bottle and lasts FOREVER!!! I just drop the drops on the back of my hand cuz I can tell when I drop it into my mouth how much I’m taking. I too need to get my levels up. Its been a slow process. Also, Vitamin D helps with progesterone assimilation. Not that you would care about that!! :)…Thank you for your note cuz I hadn’t really thought about Vit.D helping with cortisol……