14 Supplements to Manage Your Cortisol Levels

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    While cortisol is a helpful tool in your body, too much of it can lead to health problems. Some supplements can help reduce your levels. Read on to learn more.

    While cortisol is a helpful tool in your body, too much of it can lead to potential health problems. Some supplements can help manage your levels. Read on to learn more.

    What is Cortisol?

    Nicknamed the “stress hormone,” cortisol is released naturally by your body’s adrenal glands throughout the day. Its nickname owes to the fact that your glands release more of it in response to stressful situations. Beyond its association with stress, cortisol plays a role in managing metabolism, blood sugar levels, and even memory formulation. It also contributes to the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle.

    Additionally, this powerful hormone is a key player when it comes to the “fight or flight” response. When the body senses danger, it helps to prepare us for stressful situations. While cortisol is necessary for so many bodily functions, prolonged or chronic elevation of cortisol levels can have an array of negative side effects.

    How do cortisol levels affect your mood?

    Cortisol levels can have a significant impact on mood regulation. When cortisol levels are within a healthy range, they help maintain emotional balance and contribute to a sense of well-being. However, when cortisol levels become chronically elevated or imbalanced, it can negatively affect mood and mental health.

    What causes high cortisol levels?

    High cortisol levels aren't necessarily a cause for concern. Indeed, rising cortisol levels are a way that your mind signals to the rest of your body that you’re dealing with a stressful situation.

    Our bodies also experience brief spikes in cortisol levels after running or doing intense exercise. Natural cortisol levels are highest during the day and steadily decrease in the evening, as your body prepares for sleep.

    Problems arise, though, when high levels persist over the long term, having negative effects on our mood and peace of mind Excessive cortisol levels over a long period of time can wreak havoc on normal responses in the body. This is why being able to manage our day-to-day stressors is so important for mental and physical wellness.

    The top 14 supplements for cortisol level management

    In the effort to manage stress, many turn to supplements that can help regulate cortisol levels. So, let's delve into the science and explore some of the best supplements for managing your cortisol levels.

    1. Ashwagandha

    Ashwagandha is what’s known as an “adaptogen” – a substance believed to help the body respond to various stressors. Commonly known as “Indian Ginseng,” ashwagandha has for thousands of years been part of the Indian practice of Ayurvedic medicine, and now we have the scientific research to support claims of ashwagandha’s effectiveness. Studies have shown that it can manage cortisol levels, resulting in reduced stress, and better mood. One randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that people who consumed ashwagandha extract saw reduced cortisol levels and a 44% improvement in mental health compared to the placebo group.

    Another study demonstrated similar results: Volunteers who took ashwagandha reported improved scores on the “Perceived Stress Scale” and the “Oxford Happiness Questionnaire.” Care/of offers a 30-day supply of ashwagandha, harvested in India and produced using a gentle extraction method that yields the highest concentration available.

    2. Probiotics

    Probiotics are known for their benefits for gut health. Here’s the thing, though: Your gut health has profound effects on your overall health, both mental and physical. Your gut microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms – sometimes called microbiota or microbes – consisting of thousands of different species of organisms. When you’re healthy, these all exist harmoniously in your small and large intestines.

    Your body also has what’s called the “gut-brain axis,” which is a two-way communication system linking the emotional centers of your brain with your intestinal functions. In supporting the health of your gut microbiome, probiotics contribute to the well-being of the gut-brain axis. But that’s not all: Probiotics have also been shown to reverse the effects of stress.

    3. Prebiotics

    Complementing the role of probiotics, prebiotics also play a significant part in nurturing gut health and potentially contribute to reducing stress. Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that serves as a vital energy source for beneficial gut bacteria. They fuel the growth and activity of these microorganisms, promoting a thriving gut microbiome. Preliminary studies have shown that prebiotics may have the potential to manage stress by influencing the cortisol awakening response, which is the natural rise in cortisol levels upon waking up. Cortisol levels contribute to the circadian rhythm and help with managing the sleep wake cycle. Additional research is still needed however there is strong evidence that supports prebiotics and their role in supporting digestive health through maintaining healthy bowel movements, boosting probiotics efficiency, and managing occasional bloating.

    4. Fish oil

    Fish oil is a great source of omega-3s. Studies show that people with higher stress levels also happen to have lower levels of omega-3s. Fortunately, another study found that four months of omega-3 supplementation at 1.25 and 2.25 grams per day led to overall lower levels of cortisol during stress.

    5. Bacopa

    Bacopa is a nootropic herb that’s traditionally been used to support longevity and cognitive enhancement. One study looked at the effects of bacopa extract on stress, fatigue, quality of life, and sleep in adults. The results were promising: Bacopa increased self-reported emotional well-being among participants.

    Furthermore, bacopa was shown to reduce the body’s cortisol awakening response. Another study of the effects of bacopa supplementation included a group of 17 healthy volunteers. First, the volunteers took a placebo and had their stress levels tested one, and then two hours later. Then, the volunteers took 320 mg of bacopa and were tested in the same way. And, finally, the volunteers took 640 mg of bacopa, and underwent the same test. The results showed that the bacopa had adaptogenic effects and led to a reduction in cortisol levels in the bacopa group.

    6. L-theanine

    L-theanine is the most common form of the amino acid theanine. One study tested the effects of an L-theanine-based drink on a group of healthy adults aged 18 to 40. The study found that the L-theanine-based drink had anti-stress effects, with the L-theanine group seeing reductions in stress and cortisol levels compared to the placebo group.

    Furthermore, another study found that a single dose of L-theanine had positive effects on brain waves and self-reported mood balance compared to the placebo group – and, indeed, the study found that the L-theanine group had lower levels of salivary cortisol. L-theanine also promotes the secretion of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. It’s available in supplement form and naturally in green tea.

    7. Ginkgo biloba

    Ginkgo biloba is another valuable option for reducing cortisol levels and managing stress. Research has shown that ginkgo biloba can help manage oxidative stress, as demonstrated in a study highlighting its antioxidant properties. Another study conducted on rats demonstrated that ginkgo biloba can help reduce oxidative stress induced by mobile phone use. Although additional human research is needed before any conclusions can be drawn, this finding is especially interesting as we live in a society where we rely on our mobile phones more than ever. Additionally, a study investigating stress management revealed that both ginkgo biloba and ginseng have the potential to support stress reduction.

    8. Rhodiola

    Rhodiola is a commonly used supplement that is derived from the roots of the Rhodiola rosea plant. One of its major benefits is its ability to help manage stress and keep cortisol levels in check. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial was conducted and included 60 individuals experiencing stress-related fatigue. The participants were administered either 576 mg of rhodiola or a placebo for a duration of 28 days. The results of the study demonstrated that rhodiola supplementation effectively lowered cortisol levels!

    Moreover, rhodiola supports a healthy response to occasional stress, while also promoting overall stress and mood management. If you are interested in incorporating rhodiola into your supplement regimen, Care/of offers a top-quality rhodiola supplement.

    9. Maca

    Maca has traditionally been used for its ability to enhance energy, stamina, and endurance. And now it is being extensively studied for its anti-fatigue effects, yielding promising results. In addition, maca has been shown to manage oxidative stress and help promote a sense of balance and well-being.

    If you are seeking to incorporate maca into your routine, Care/of’s Maca tub is a great option. Stress is a natural response that occurs when we're faced with challenges and it can impact both our physical and mental well-being. Adaptogens like maca have been shown to be effective in managing stress as they help the body improve its resistance to it.

    10. Cordyceps Sinensis

    Cordyceps sinensis is a fungus that lives on certain caterpillars in the high mountain regions of China. Although this may not sound the most appealing, its health benefits are outstanding. Preliminary animal studies have indicated that cordyceps militaris, a species closely related to cordyceps sinensis, can significantly increase ATP levels (responsible for energy) and enhance the activity of antioxidative enzymes. Furthermore, it has been shown to reduce the levels of lactic acid, lactic dehydrogenase, malondialdehyde, and reactive oxygen species, indicating its potential in managing oxidative stress.

    11. Phosphatidylserine

    Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid that is a component of our cell membranes. It is responsible for protecting the cells in our brains and transmits messages between them. Aside from this important role, PS has been shown to help reduce and manage exercise-induced stress. Studies have demonstrated that PS supplementation can help mitigate the negative effects of strenuous exercise on the body and support overall stress management. Also, PS has been shown to have positive effects on cognitive performance after induced stress. This indicates that PS has the potential to support mental resilience.

    Likewise, combining PS with another phospholipid, phosphatidylcholine, has also been studied, and the results have shown enhanced stress management effects. In one study, treatment with 400 mg of PAS resulted in a pronounced reduction in both serum ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) and cortisol levels. For those interested in incorporating PS into their supplement routine, a complex such as soy lecithin phosphatidic acid and phosphatidylserine (PAS) offers one potentially effective option.

    12. Ginseng

    Research has demonstrated that ginseng can aid in managing oxidative stress due to its strong antioxidant-like properties. After administering ginseng this study reported increases in enzymes called CAT (catalase) and SOD (superoxide dismutase) which help boost antioxidant activity in the body. Additionally, a placebo-controlled clinical trial found that Koren red ginseng has a stabilizing effect on the sympathetic nervous system.

    13. Magnesium

    During periods of elevated stress, certain minerals, including magnesium, can become depleted quicker. In fact, research studies have found that magnesium deficiency has been linked to an increased susceptibility to stress. Furthermore, individuals with high-stress levels tend to have lower levels of magnesium.

    This evidence further emphasizes the importance of ensuring an adequate intake of magnesium in supporting the body's response to stress.

    14. Chamomile

    In addition to its traditional use as a tea, chamomile can also be utilized in the form of essential oil for aromatherapy. Aromatherapy with chamomile essential oil has been shown to have a positive impact on stress levels, providing a gentle and natural approach to relaxation.

    Other natural ways to reduce your cortisol levels

    Of course, supplements aren’t the only way to reduce your cortisol. You may want to check out some helpful stress management strategies. For instance, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, gentle stretching, or even yoga are great options. Additionally, listening to your favorite music can also be a stress-relieving activity.

    Nevertheless, when it comes to mental health benefits, you really can’t go wrong with trying to get enough sleep. The same is true of making sure you’re eating a healthy, nutrient-dense diet.

    The Bottom Line

    Cortisol is released by your body’s adrenal glands in response to stress. While it serves many useful purposes for your health, too much cortisol – or high levels sustained for too long – can lead to health problems. Incorporating any of the supplements listed above can help you manage stress and reduce cortisol levels. You can also reduce cortisol levels through some lifestyle tweaks, including relaxation strategies, changes in diet, and improved sleep habits.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Jordana Tobelem, RD
    Freelance Contributor
    Jordana Tobelem is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys helping others become the best versions of themselves through proper nutrition education. Jordana is passionate about promoting lifestyle changes through nutrition, physical activity, and behavior to create a superior quality of life. She uses her experience in the clinical field of dietetics to provide consulting services to an array of healthcare brands and companies. Jordana loves finding the most current research in nutrition to create meaningful content to share with her clients. Jordana has been a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics since 2018 and also holds certifications in both Personal Training and Health Coaching.