How to Lower Cortisol: 7 Things You Can Do Right Now

Key Takeaways

  • Cortisol is a stress hormone the body naturally produces that plays an important role in your health and well-being. 
  • Chronically elevated cortisol levels can contribute to and worsen some health issues, like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, as well as mental health disorders.
  • Taking steps to better manage and cope with stress can help keep cortisol levels in check.

If there’s a current health villain, it’s cortisol — at least, according to social media. On TikTok, you can find more than 80,000 posts under #cortisol, with most of those videos featuring wellness influencers warning about the risks of cortisol levels that are too high.

But, how do you know if your cortisol levels are actually too high?

What Is Cortisol — and What Are the Risks if My Levels Are Too High?

Cortisol is a stress hormone — a chemical the body produces in response to stress. It can have a really negative connotation, says Raza Sagarwala, MD, chief resident in the department of psychiatry and behavioral services at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. “But cortisol is really important for many bodily functions.” 

In a healthy body, for instance, cortisol helps regulate inflammation, adds Jeannette M. Bennett, PhD, an associate professor of psychological science at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte.

When we come into contact with bacteria or a virus, cortisol plays a role in helping our body fight off those germs and not get sick. “It really keeps the immune system in check,” Dr. Bennett says.

Our bodies produce cortisol in order to respond more efficiently to potential dangers during acutely stressful situations. “And we need our bodies to respond to threats,” says Nia Fogelman, PhD, associate research scientist at the Yale Stress Center. “A classic example is a life-threatening situation, like encountering a bear. We would want our body to be able to react quickly and appropriately to outrun the bear.” Cortisol is one hormone that helps us to do that, giving us the energy to fight or flee from the stressor — whether that’s a bear or a pressing deadline, Dr. Fogelman says.

In limited doses cortisol helps keep us healthy. When cortisol is chronically elevated, however, the immune system becomes less sensitive — and, therefore, less receptive — to the hormone’s anti-inflammatory abilities, Bennett explains. This can lead to chronic inflammation. 

“And that [chronic inflammation] is linked to many chronic diseases, like obesitytype 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” she says. It also can play a role in mental health conditions, including major depressionschizophreniabipolar disorderanxiety, and PTSD.

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