When you are under stress, the adrenal glands release cortisol, a hormone that contributes to your response. Increased cortisol levels can have a number of adverse health effects. You cannot completely reduce cortisol, but you can reduce cortisol levels and manage stress by making some changes in your diet.
What are cortisol levels in the body?
Stress and metabolism are two of the most important physiological processes triggered by cortisol, a steroid hormone. Cortisol levels in the body naturally fluctuate throughout the day as part of the body’s circadian rhythm.
The highest levels of cortisol are typically in the morning, shortly after waking, and they gradually decrease as the day progresses.
Cortisol is often referred to as the “stress hormone” because it is released in response to stressors and helps the body prepare for the “fight or flight” response. It increases blood sugar levels, suppresses the immune system, and aids in various metabolic processes. However, chronic stress can lead to persistently elevated cortisol levels, which can have adverse effects on health, including weight gain, sleep disturbances, and other health issues.
These levels can differ based on a variety of factors, including age, sex, genetics, and personal circumstances.
What is the normal range of cortisol levels?
Cortisol levels can vary throughout the day, and what is considered a “normal” range for cortisol depends on the time of day when the measurement is taken. In general, they are highest in the morning and decrease as the day progresses. To monitor the levels, healthcare professionals often measure them using blood test or saliva tests.
Here are the approximate normal ranges for cortisol levels at different times of the day:
1. Morning: Cortisol levels are typically highest within 30-45 minutes of waking up. The normal range for morning is around 6 to 23 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) or 166 to 635 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L).
2. Afternoon: In the afternoon, cortisol levels should be lower than in the morning. A typical afternoon range is about 3 to 13 mcg/dL (83 to 359 nmol/L).
3. Evening: By the evening, cortisol levels should continue to decline. A typical evening range is around 2 to 9 mcg/dL (55 to 248 nmol/L).
4. Nighttime: During the nighttime, cortisol levels are usually at their lowest. Normal nighttime levels can be as low as 1 mcg/dL (28 nmol/L).
The “normal” range of cortisol can vary depending on the laboratory and the specific test used. Please note that these are general guidelines. Furthermore, individual variations and health conditions can affect cortisol levels. Some people may have variations in their cortisol rhythms due to shift work or other factors.
Foods That Reduces Cortisol Level
Here are some foods and dietary strategies that may help reduce cortisol levels:
1. Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, have anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce stress and lower cortisol levels.
2. Complex Carbohydrates
Blood sugar levels can be stabilized with whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa, preventing spikes and crashes that contribute to stress.
3. Leafy Green Vegetables
Vegetables like kale, spinach, and broccoli are high in magnesium, which can help regulate cortisol levels and promote relaxation.
Antioxidants found in blueberries and strawberries may reduce the effects of high cortisol levels on the body.
5. Oranges and Other Vitamin C-rich foods
Vitamin C can help reduce cortisol levels and strengthen the immune system. Oranges, kiwi, and red bell peppers are good sources.
6. Lean Proteins
A steady supply of energy can be provided by foods rich in protein, such as poultry, tofu, and legumes, reducing body stress.
7. Probiotic-Rich Foods
Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut contain probiotics that can support gut health. A healthy gut microbiome has been linked to lower stress levels and reduced cortisol.
8. Nuts and Seeds
Almonds, pistachios, and sunflower seeds are sources of healthy fats and magnesium, which can help with stress management.
Avocado is a good source of healthy fats, particularly monounsaturated fats, which can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
10. Herbal Teas
There are certain Herbal Teas that help in maintaining gut health. As physical health is also associated with mental health, herbal teas, Chamomile tea, in particular, is known for its calming properties, which can help reduce stress and cortisol levels.
11. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (70% or more) contains antioxidants and may have stress-reducing properties. Be mindful of portion sizes, as chocolate is calorie-dense.
Staying well-hydrated is essential for maintaining overall health and can help your body cope with stress more effectively.
It is essential to remember that eating low-cortisol foods alone cannot help. To keep your cortisol levels healthy and generally well-adjusted you need to eat a well-balanced diet, do regular physical activity, and try different stress management techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, and adequate sleep.