Focusing on the Benefits of Natural Ways to Reduce Cortisol

Learn about the role cortisol plays in regulating important aspects of your health and gain an understanding of how to implement natural ways to reduce cortisol levels. 

By Alexa Fry

If you are like most of us, you continue to search for ways to help manage your stress while balancing various day-to-day responsibilities and pressures. Though we can’t completely avoid stress, we can learn how to focus on making small steps to improve our body’s hormonal balance in stressful situations. 
In this blog, we will explore the role of cortisol, the effects of unbalanced cortisol levels, and the importance of exploring natural ways to reduce cortisol levels.

What Is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a glucocorticoid (steroid) hormone that is produced by our adrenal glands, which is part of the endocrine system. Cortisol production is regulated by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, located in the brain. This whole system is known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). Cortisol levels are monitored within the HPA axis, and the adrenal glands are notified when it’s necessary to increase or decrease cortisol production in the body.1

Cortisol is often referred to as a stress hormone. When the body is faced with a stressful situation, or a person feels like they are faced with danger, cortisol is released. The release of this hormone helps the body prepare to face the situation or to run from the perceived danger.2

This increase in cortisol serves an important purpose. However, when cortisol levels are consistently elevated every day over long periods, it may become a challenge to manage and lead to other health concerns. This is why learning more about the function of this hormone and ways to naturally reduce cortisol is key.

Hormone Health — The Cortisol Connection

Cortisol plays a part in a number of physical functions, influencing the stress response, immune function, inflammation, and metabolism. In fact, glucocorticoid receptors can be found in virtually every tissue, reflecting cortisol’s ability to influence almost all of our organ systems.

Blood Glucose and Metabolism

As we discussed, cortisol takes the lead in helping the body to adapt to a short-term stressful situation. In addition to preparing us to flee or eventually deal with the event at hand, cortisol also causes the body to produce glucose from non-carbohydrate sources through a process called gluconeogenesis. It affects the metabolism of proteins, carbs, and fats. In this way, cortisol helps with keeping glucose levels balanced or homeostatic.4 This process is critical during stress because it reduces blood glucose uptake by the muscles, allowing plasma glucose levels to be prioritized for the brain.

Circadian Rhythm

Cortisol is also a key player in your body’s circadian rhythm which is also known as the sleep-wake cycle, dictated by the body’s internal clock. The internal clock orchestrates a number of physical processes related to sleep and wakefulness each day. High cortisol levels in the morning help us feel awake by getting our blood glucose and blood pressure up so we can get our feet on the ground and start our day. Healthy cortisol levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day, helping to keep us alert. Cortisol levels gradually decrease leading into the evening hours while levels of the “sleep hormone,” melatonin, begin to rise, lulling us to sleep.1

Anti-Inflammatory Response

Another area where cortisol assists us during stressful situations is by suppressing the body’s inflammatory response, allowing resources to be directed to other functions in our body.5 This supports immune strength in the short term. However, when chronic stress causes long-term elevation of cortisol, the body gets used to high levels of cortisol.5 This can lead to overactive inflammation, which weakens the immune system and increases risk for chronic disease.

When Cortisol Levels Are High

Cortisol is an important hormone, but when released at high levels over an extended period of time, it may impact your overall health and well-being. Prolonged periods of high cortisol levels have been shown to have a significant effect on heart health and may lead to an increase in blood cholesterol, triglycerides, an increase in blood pressure and blood glucose levels, insulin resistance, and obesity.6,7

A suboptimal dietary intake, certain health conditions, and ongoing stress can lead to imbalanced cortisol levels over time. Chronic inflammation due to increased cortisol levels may tax your immune system.7

Though there isn’t a perfect solution, we know that effectively managing stress is important to manage cortisol. So, let’s check out some great ways to naturally reduce cortisol levels and focus on adopting ways to promote a healthier you!

5 Ways to Naturally Reduce Cortisol Levels

Chronic stress can take a major toll on your health, but there are several natural approaches you can practice in order to reduce cortisol levels and promote relaxation and resilience when faced with daily stressors. In this section, we will explore five effective strategies for naturally lowering cortisol levels, offering practical insights to help individuals cultivate a healthier lifestyle and manage stress more effectively.

1. Set Attainable Goals

Immediately tackling all of your goals may be tempting; however, you can manage stress by taking time to prioritize what is important to you. Where are you right now? Are you ready to make a change? Are you in the action stages to hit the ground running? If so, identifying one goal you would like to work towards may be the best starting place for you.

Committing to your agenda and practicing small steps daily will help you to build a consistent framework for success. Also, always keep in mind the reason why you have set out to take charge of your health — this can help motivate you to stay on track. 

Though some days you may step off course a little, just keep in mind that this is normal. Take a good look to identify what may have caused the disruption, acknowledge it, and move ahead. You’ve got this!

2. Balance Your Nutrition

As we know, a person’s dietary intake affects their overall health. Making choices ‘on the fly’ or without planning can sometimes lead to not so healthy food selections.  When we reach for these convenient foods that are usually nutrient sparse and calorically dense — high in saturated or trans fats and refined sugars, we may be contributing to a cycle of unhealthy food choices in response to stress. 

Try choosing color in your diet! Think fresh or frozen whole fruits and vegetables. Adding colorful variety on your plate leads to new taste experiences and provides dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, as well as naturally occurring phytonutrients or antioxidants that support optimal nutrition. Some nutrients like magnesium, vitamin C, and the B vitamins may contribute to supporting a healthy stress response:8

  • Magnesium. Try increasing your servings of dark green leafy veggies like spinach, kale, or collard greens which are all rich in magnesium. Other magnesium-rich foods include nuts, seeds, legumes, bananas, cherries, papayas, avocados, and dairy  foods like low fat milk and yogurt. 
  • Vitamin C. Add vitamin C-rich foods like citrus, red peppers, and cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and broccoli to enhance flavor on your plate.
  • B-Vitamins. Vitamin B-rich food sources include lean protein like salmon, eggs, chicken, pork and beef, also grains such as quinoa, whole grain breads, and fortified cereals.
  • Mediterranean diet. Getting omega 3 fatty acids into your diet from tuna, cod, salmon, sardines, halibut, herring, trout, and mackerel may support your heart and overall health.9
  • Dietary supplements. If you are having a hard time getting all your daily nutrients from your food, speak to your health care practitioner to see what dietary supplements may help.

3. Move Daily

Engage in regular physical activity to help combat stress and lower cortisol levels. Both aerobic exercise (such as jogging, swimming, or cycling) and strength training have been shown to reduce cortisol secretion and improve overall mood and well-being.5 Don’t be afraid to shake up your workout routine by exploring creative ways to stay active

4. Invest in Sound Sleep 

Aim to get about 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Sleep is critical for physical repair and restoration as well as  keeping your circadian rhythm aligned with your schedule. Assess your current practices to see where you can make some adjustments to improve your sleep habits. For example, these practices have been shown to promote better sleep:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  • Establish a calming pre-sleep routine, such as using relaxation techniques, and avoid using your phone or computer before bed.
  • Make your bedroom a comfortable place to sleep by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet.
  • Avoid heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime.

5. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that involves paying close attention to the present moment without judgment. Examples of mindfulness practices include deep breathing, body scans, and meditation. By cultivating awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surroundings, mindfulness allows you to become better equipped to respond to life's stressors in a healthy and adaptable way. 

One of the key mechanisms through which mindfulness reduces cortisol levels is by activating the body's relaxation response.10 As a result, cortisol levels decrease, helping with stress management and improving overall well-being. 

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  1. Breus, Michael. “The effects of cortisol on your sleep.” Psychology Today, 2020, Accessed 13 March 2024.
  2. Tee-Melegrito, Rachel Ann. “Cortisol and stress: What is the connection?” Medical News Today, 2023, Accessed 13 March 2024. 
  3. Thau, Lauren, et al. “Physiology, cortisol.” StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 2023, Accessed 13 March 2024.
  4. Kuo, Taiyi et al. “Regulation of glucose homeostasis by glucocorticoids.” Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, vol. 872, 2015, pp. 99-126, Accessed 14 March 2024.
  5. Cleveland Clinic. “Cortisol.” 2021, Accessed 14 March 2024.
  6. Stachowicz, M., and Anna Lebiedzińska. “The effect of diet components on the level of cortisol.”  European Food Research and Technology, vol. 242, 2016,
  7. Aronson, Dina. “Cortisol — Its role in stress, inflammation, and indications for diet therapy.”
    Today’s Dietitian, vol. 11, no. 11, 2009, p. 38,
  8. Cleveland Clinic. “Eat these foods to reduce stress and anxiety.” 2021, Accessed 15 March 2024. 
  9. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Mediterranean diet for heart health.” Mayo Clinic, 2023, Accessed 14 March 2024.
  10. Koncz, Adam et al. “Meditation interventions efficiently reduce cortisol levels of at-risk samples: A meta-analysis.” Health Psychology Review, vol. 15, no. 1, 2021, pp. 56-84,

If you are like most people, you continue to search for ways to help manage your stress while balancing various day-to-day responsibilities and pressures. Understanding what cortisol is and the role it plays in your overall health creates a clear picture of why we may need to explore natural ways to reduce cortisol levels.

Alexa Fry is a health educator with a certificate in technical writing and 10 years of experience in the medical field. She has held roles as a science writer and clinical trial specialist at the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service. She also wrote, edited, and coordinated content for,, and Alexa is passionate about making meaningful, actionable medical information available to everyone.