Alternative Treatments for High and Low Cortisol Levels: Natural Solutions and Remedies

Unlocking the Cortisol Code: Your Physiological Stress Regulator

Our body uses cortisol, which regulates stress, as a conductor to coordinate different physical systems. It is essential to maintaining our health, controlling everything from metabolism to inflammation.

Knowing Cortisol: More Than Just the Stress Hormone

Stress isn’t the only thing that our adrenal glands generate, cortisol. It controls our sleep patterns, suppresses inflammation, and regulates our metabolism. Consider it as the multifunctional superhero of our body.

Getting Around on Cortisol’s Ground: Finding a Balance for Well-Being

Our health might suffer greatly when cortisol levels are out of balance—either too high or too low. We can more effectively control stress and advance our overall health if we are aware of its function. 

Understanding Cortisol’s Effects: Essentials for Well-Being

Vitality depends on regulating cortisol levels appropriately. Through good stress management and body awareness, we can harness the power of cortisol to promote a happier, healthier existence. 

The body’s stress regulator, cortisol, coordinates a number of processes essential to human health. As we examine the function of cortisol, let’s look at alternative therapies that could help maintain its natural balance.

Where Cortisol is Found: The Role of the Adrenal Glands

Cortisol, often referred to as the body’s stress hormone, is primarily produced in the adrenal glands. These small, triangular-shaped glands sit atop the kidneys and consist of two parts: the adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla. Cortisol is specifically produced in the adrenal cortex, where it is synthesized from cholesterol. Upon stimulation by adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) from the pituitary gland, the adrenal cortex releases cortisol into the bloodstream.

Function and Role of Cortisol in the Body

Cortisol serves many essential functions in the body, playing a pivotal role in various physiological processes. Some of its key functions include:

  • Regulating Metabolism: 
  • Stress Response: Cortisol is integral to the body’s response to stress. It mobilizes energy reserves, increases blood sugar levels, and enhances cardiovascular function to prepare the body for fight-or-flight responses.
  • Immune Function: Cortisol has immunosuppressive effects.
  • Maintaining Blood Pressure: 
  • Influencing Mood and Emotions: Cortisol can impact mood, emotions, and cognitive function, with elevated levels potentially contributing to anxiety, irritability, and cognitive impairments.

The Significance of Cortisol: Understanding Its Impact on Health and Well-being

Given its diverse functions, cortisol plays a critical role in maintaining overall health and well-being. However, dysregulation of cortisol levels can have profound implications for health, leading to various disorders and conditions.

Normal level of Cortisol

The normal level of cortisol in the body varies throughout the day due to its diurnal rhythm. Typically, cortisol levels are highest in the morning shortly after waking up, known as the cortisol awakeningresponse, and gradually decline throughout the day, reaching their lowest levels in the evening and during sleep.

In general, normal cortisol levels fall within the range of:

  • Morning (within 30 minutes of waking): 6 to 23 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) or 166 to 635 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L).
  • Evening (before bedtime): Less than 10 mcg/dL or 276 nmol/L.

Signs and Symptoms of High Cortisol Levels

Physical SymptomsPsychological SymptomsOther Symptoms
Weight gain, particularly in the abdomen (central obesity)Mood swings, irritability, anxietyHigh blood pressure (hypertension)
Moon face (rounding of the face)Insomnia or disrupted sleepIncreased susceptibility to infections
Buffalo hump (fat accumulation between the shoulders)Increased thirst and urinationGlucose intolerance or diabetes
Thin, fragile skin that bruises easilyAcne or other skin changesOsteoporosis or increased risk of fractures
Stretch marks (striae), especially on the abdomenMenstrual irregularities in women
Reduced immune function

Signs and Symptoms of Low Cortisol Levels

Physical SymptomsPsychological SymptomsOther Symptoms
Weight loss, particularly in muscle mass (muscle wasting)Fatigue, weakness, and lethargySalt cravings
Decreased tolerance to stress or illnessDepression, apathy, emotional flatnessOrthostatic hypotension (dizziness upon standing)
Hypotension (low blood pressure)Brain fog, difficulty concentrating, memory problemsDarkening of the skin (hyperpigmentation), especially in sun-exposed areas
Darkening of the skin (hyperpigmentation), especially in sun-exposed areasSocial withdrawal  decreased libido

Please note that not all individuals with high or low cortisol levels will experience all of these symptoms, and individual experiences may vary. Consulting a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and diagnosis is essential for addressing cortisol-related imbalances and optimizing health outcomes.

Diagnosis of Cortisol Imbalances:

Diagnosing cortisol imbalances typically involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. Here are the common diagnostic methods:

Medical History and Physical Examination: Healthcare providers will inquire about symptoms, medical history, medication use, and lifestyle factors. A physical examination may reveal signs associated with cortisol imbalances, such as weight changes, skin changes, or blood pressure abnormalities.

Blood Tests:Blood tests are used to measure cortisol levels, typically obtained in the morning when levels are highest. The main tests include:

  • Serum Cortisol Test: Measures cortisol levels in the blood.
  • ACTH Stimulation Test: Evaluates adrenal function by measuring cortisol response to synthetic ACTH administration.
  • Dexamethasone Suppression Test:.
  • Urine Tests: Urine cortisol tests measure cortisol levels in a 24-hour urine collection. This test provides information about cortisol production over an extended period.
  • Saliva Tests

Imaging Studies: In some cases, imaging studies such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be performed to visualize the adrenal glands and detect abnormalities, such as tumors or nodules.

Functional Tests: Functional tests, such as the insulin tolerance test (ITT) or the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) stimulation test, may be used to evaluate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and assess cortisol response to various stimuli.

Interpretation of test results requires expertise, and healthcare providers may consider multiple factors, including symptoms, test findings, and patient context, to make an accurate diagnosis. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and interpretation of test results and to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

Diseases Caused by High Cortisol Levels

Cushing’s Syndrome

Metabolic Disorders: Prolonged elevation of cortisol levels can contribute to metabolic disturbances, such as insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, and ultimately, type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Cardiovascular Disease: Hypercortisolism is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular complications, including hypertension, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, and stroke.

Osteoporosis: Excess cortisol can lead to decreased bone density and increased bone resorption, predisposing individuals to osteoporosis and an increased risk of fractures.

Immune Suppression: Chronic exposure to high cortisol levels can suppress immune function, increasing susceptibility to infections and impairing wound healing.

Psychological Disorders: High cortisol levels may contribute to mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, irritability, and cognitive impairment.

Diseases Caused by Low Cortisol Levels

Addison’s Disease:Also known as primary adrenal insufficiency, Addison’s disease occurs when the adrenal glands fail to produce adequate cortisol and aldosterone. Symptoms may include fatigue, weakness, weight loss, hypotension, hyperpigmentation, salt cravings, and gastrointestinal disturbances.

Adrenal Crisis: A severe form of adrenal insufficiency, the adrenal crisis occurs when cortisol levels plummet abruptly, leading to life-threatening symptoms such as hypotension, shock, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and altered consciousness.

Hypopituitarism:Dysfunction of the pituitary gland can lead to inadequate secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), resulting in secondary adrenal insufficiency and low cortisol levels.

Hypoglycemia:Insufficient cortisol production can impair glucose metabolism, leading to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and associated symptoms such as weakness, dizziness, confusion, and sweating.

Autoimmune Disorders: Autoimmune conditions affecting the adrenal glands, such as autoimmune adrenalitis, can result in adrenal insufficiency and low cortisol levels.

Chronic Stress Disorders: Prolonged exposure to stress and cortisol dysregulation may contribute to chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and other stress-related disorders.

It’s important to note that these diseases may present with overlapping symptoms, and accurate diagnosis requires thorough medical evaluation and testing by a healthcare professional. Treatment strategies aim to restore cortisol balance and manage underlying conditions to optimize health and well-being.

Conventional Treatment for High Cortisol Levels

Surgical Intervention:For individuals with adrenal or pituitary tumors causing excess cortisol production, surgical removal of the tumor (adrenalectomy or transsphenoidal surgery) may be recommended.

Medications: Pharmacological treatments may include:

  • Steroidogenesis Inhibitors: s.
  • Glucocorticoid Receptor Antagonists: 

Radiation Therapy: External beam radiation or stereotactic radiosurgery may be used to target and shrink pituitary tumors causing Cushing’s disease.

Adrenal Enzyme Inhibitors: Some medications, such as etomidate, may be used in acute settings to rapidly lower cortisol levels in severe cases.

Symptomatic Management: Treatment of complications associated with hypercortisolism, such as hypertension, osteoporosis, and glucose intolerance, may involve medications to control blood pressure, promote bone health, and manage blood sugar levels.

Conventional Treatment for Low Cortisol Levels

Glucocorticoid Replacement Therapy:The cornerstone of treatment for adrenal insufficiency involves lifelong replacement of cortisol with synthetic glucocorticoids, such as hydrocortisone, prednisone, or dexamethasone. Dosage adjustments may be necessary during times of illness, stress, or surgery.

Mineralocorticoid Replacement: 

Education and Patient Empowerment:Patients with adrenal insufficiency are often educated about the importance of stress dosing (increasing glucocorticoid doses during illness or stress), carrying medical alert identification, and promptly seeking medical attention during adrenal crises.

Regular Monitoring: 

Emergency Treatment: In cases of acute adrenal crisis, prompt administration of intravenous fluids, glucocorticoids (such as hydrocortisone), and supportive care is crucial to stabilize the patient’s condition and prevent life-threatening complications.

Management of cortisol imbalances requires a multidisciplinary approach involving endocrinologists, primary care physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare professionals. Treatment plans are tailored to the individual patient’s needs, to optimize cortisol levels, alleviate symptoms, and improve overall health and quality of life.

Herbal Treatment for High Cortisol Levels

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Known for its adaptogenic properties, ashwagandha may help regulate cortisol levels and reduce stress. It has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to support adrenal health and promote overall well-being.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea): Rhodiola is another adaptogenic herb that may help modulate the body’s response to stress and support adrenal function. It is believed to enhance resilience to stress and improve energy levels.

Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum):Holy basil, also known as tulsi, has been used in traditional medicine to combat stress and promote relaxation. It may help regulate cortisol levels and reduce the impact of chronic stress on the body.

Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Licorice root contains compounds that can inhibit the enzyme responsible for cortisol breakdown, leading to increased cortisol levels. However, prolonged use or high doses of licorice root should be avoided due to the risk of hypertension and potassium depletion.

Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum): Reishi mushroom is valued for its adaptogenic and immune-modulating properties. It may help support adrenal function and reduce the negative effects of stress on the body.

Herbal Treatment for Low Cortisol Levels

Ginseng (Panax ginseng):Ginseng is an adaptogenic herb that may help improve adrenal function and support the body’s response to stress. It is believed to enhance energy levels, mental clarity, and overall vitality.

Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra): In addition to its potential to raise cortisol levels in cases of hypercortisolism, licorice root may also be beneficial for individuals with low cortisol levels. It can help increase cortisol activity and support adrenal function.

Siberian Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus): Siberian eleuthero, also known as Siberian ginseng, is another adaptogenic herb that may help enhance resilience to stress and support adrenal health. It is often used to combat fatigue and promote physical endurance.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea): While rhodiola is commonly used to address high cortisol levels, it may also be beneficial for individuals with low cortisol levels by helping improve energy levels, mental focus, and overall vitality.

Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra):Licorice root’s cortisol-boosting effects may also be beneficial for individuals with low cortisol levels, helping to increase energy, reduce fatigue, and support adrenal function.

It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional or qualified herbalist before using herbal remedies, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medications. Herbal treatments should be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan and may complement conventional therapies under medical supervision.

Acupuncture Points for High Cortisol Levels (Hypercortisolism):

Liver 3 (LV3):Located on the dorsum of the foot, in the depression distal to the junction of the first and second metatarsal bones, LV3 is believed to regulate liver function and reduce stress.

Pericardium 6 (PC6):Situated on the anterior aspect of the forearm, approximately 2 cun above the wrist crease between the tendons of the palmaris longus and flexor carpi radialis muscles, PC6 is thought to calm the mind and alleviate anxiety.

Spleen 6 (SP6):Found on the medial aspect of the lower leg, 3 cun superior to the medial malleolus, SP6 is associated with harmonizing the spleen, liver, and kidney functions and may help balance cortisol levels.

Governing Vessel 20 (GV20): Located at the vertex of the head, GV20 is believed to regulate the central nervous system and promote relaxation, potentially reducing cortisol levels.

Conception Vessel 6 (CV6): Positioned 1.5 cun below the umbilicus, CV6 is thought to tonify the spleen and regulate digestion, which may indirectly impact cortisol levels by promoting overall balance in the body.

Acupuncture Points for Low Cortisol Levels (Hypocortisolism):

Kidney 3 (KD3): Located on the medial aspect of the foot, in the depression between the medial malleolus and the Achilles tendon, KD3 is believed to tonify kidney qi and adrenal function.

Stomach 36 (ST36):Situated on the anterior aspect of the lower leg, 3 cun below ST35 and 1 finger breadth lateral to the anterior border of the tibia, ST36 is associated with strengthening the body’s vitality and may help boost energy levels.

Spleen 6 (SP6): As mentioned earlier, SP6 is believed to harmonize the functions of the spleen, liver, and kidneys, potentially supporting adrenal function and cortisol production.

Bladder 23 (BL23):Found 1.5 cun lateral to the lower border of the spinous process of the second lumbar vertebra, BL23 is associated with nourishing kidney yin and yang, which may help restore adrenal balance.

Governing Vessel 20 (GV20):Also mentioned earlier, GV20 is believed to regulate the central nervous system and promote relaxation, potentially aiding in stress management and cortisol regulation.

These acupuncture points are commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to address imbalances in cortisol levels. However, acupuncture treatment should be administered by a qualified practitioner experienced in TCM diagnosis and therapy. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment approach for your individual needs.

Lifestyle, Diet, and Nutrition for Healthy Cortisol Levels:

Manage Stress: Incorporate stress-reducing practices into your daily routine, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or spending time in nature. Prioritize activities that promote relaxation and emotional well-being.

Maintain Regular Sleep Patterns: Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to support optimal cortisol regulation. Create a calming bedtime routine, avoid caffeine and electronic devices before bed, and ensure your sleep environment is comfortable and conducive to rest.

Regular Exercise: Engage in regular physical activity to help regulate cortisol levels and promote overall well-being. Aim for a mix of cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises to support adrenal health and stress resilience.

Balanced Nutrition: Focus on a balanced diet rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods to support adrenal function and cortisol regulation. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains in your meals. Limit processed foods, sugary snacks, and excessive caffeine intake, which can disrupt cortisol balance.

Hydration:Stay adequately hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Dehydration can stress the body and potentially impact cortisol levels, so aim to drink at least 8-10 cups of water daily, or more if you’re physically active or in hot weather.

Mindful Eating:Practice mindful eating by paying attention to hunger and fullness cues, eating slowly, and savoring your meals. Avoid skipping meals or going too long without eating, as this can trigger cortisol release and disrupt blood sugar levels.

Limit Stimulants: Reduce your intake of stimulants like caffeine and alcohol, as they can stimulate cortisol production and disrupt the body’s natural rhythm. Opt for herbal teas or decaffeinated beverages instead.

Adaptogenic Herbs: Consider incorporating adaptogenic herbs 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Include sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, in your diet. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties and may help support balanced cortisol levels.

Regular Meals and Snacks:Eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day to maintain stable blood sugar levels and prevent cortisol spikes. Aim for balanced meals that include a combination of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates to provide sustained energy.


Berries (e.g., blueberries, strawberries, raspberries): Rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, berries help combat oxidative stress and support adrenal health.

Oranges: High in vitamin C, oranges can help reduce cortisol levels and support immune function.

Bananas: A good source of potassium and B vitamins, bananas can help regulate blood pressure and support nervous system function.

Apples: Packed with fiber and antioxidants, apples can help stabilize blood sugar levels and promote digestive health.

Kiwi:Loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants, kiwi can help reduce inflammation and support immune function.


Leafy greens (e.g., spinach, kale, Swiss chard): Rich in magnesium and other nutrients, leafy greens can help reduce stress and support adrenal function.

Bell peppers: High in vitamin C and antioxidants, bell peppers can help reduce inflammation and support immune health.

Broccoli: Packed with vitamins and minerals, broccoli can help support detoxification pathways and reduce oxidative stress.

Sweet potatoes:Rich in complex carbohydrates and vitamin A, sweet potatoes can help regulate blood sugar levels and support adrenal health.

Avocado: Loaded with healthy fats and potassium, avocado can help regulate blood pressure and support nervous system function.

Nuts and Seeds:

Almonds: Rich in magnesium and vitamin E, almonds can help reduce stress and support adrenal function.

Walnuts: High in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, walnuts can help reduce inflammation and support brain health.

Pumpkin seeds: Packed with magnesium and zinc, pumpkin seeds can help reduce stress and support immune function.

Flaxseeds: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, flaxseeds can help reduce inflammation and support digestive health.

Chia seeds: Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, chia seeds can help reduce stress and support heart health.

Incorporating a variety of these fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds into your diet can help support adrenal health and maintain balanced cortisol levels. Remember to focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods and listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues to support overall well-being.

Mindful Practices for Stress Reduction and Cortisol Balance:

Mindful Breathing: Take moments throughout the day to practice deep breathing exercises. Focus on slow, deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. This can help activate the body’s relaxation response and reduce cortisol levels.

Body Scan Meditation: Set aside time each day for a body scan meditation practice. Lie down in a comfortable position and systematically focus your attention on each part of your body, starting from your toes and working your way up to your head. Notice any areas of tension or discomfort and consciously release them, allowing your body to relax deeply.

Mindful Eating: Practice mindful eating by paying attention to the sensory experience of eating. Notice the colors, textures, and flavors of your food. Chew slowly and savor each bite, paying attention to how the food makes you feel physically and emotionally. Eating mindfully can help reduce stress and support healthy digestion.

Mindful Movement: Engage in mindful movement practices such as yoga, tai chi, or qigong. These gentle, flowing exercises incorporate breath awareness and conscious movement, helping to calm the mind, reduce stress, and promote relaxation.

Nature Connection:Spend time in nature and engage your senses fully. Take a leisurely walk in the park, sit by a body of water, or simply spend time outdoors observing the sights, sounds, and smells around you. Connecting with nature can help reduce stress and promote a sense of calm and well-being.

Gratitude Practice:Cultivate an attitude of gratitude by reflecting on the things you’re thankful for each day. Keep a gratitude journal and write down three things you’re grateful for each morning or evening. Focusing on the positive aspects of your life can help shift your perspective and reduce stress.

Digital Detox: Take regular breaks from technology and screen time to give your mind a rest. Set boundaries around device usage, especially before bedtime, to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. Disconnecting from screens can help reduce mental clutter and promote mindfulness.

Mindful Communication:Practice mindful communication by listening attentively and speaking consciously. Pay attention to your words and the impact they have on others. Take time to fully engage in conversations without distractions, allowing for deeper connections and understanding.

In conclusion, understanding cortisol’s role as the body’s stress hormone is crucial for maintaining overall well-being. While cortisol plays essential functions in regulating metabolism, inflammation, and stress response, imbalances can lead to various health issues. By incorporating mindful practices, lifestyle modifications, and appropriate treatments, individuals can strive for cortisol balance and better manage their stress levels. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance and support on your journey to optimal health and wellness. And remember, your health is your greatest wealth. Wishing you continued well-being and vitality on your journey to better health

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