How to reduce cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’ TikTok is currently obsessed with

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How to reduce cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’ TikTok is currently obsessed with


In other words, cortisol, at the right levels, is a key part of our overall health. When we are in “fight or flight mode” — which can happen when we are physically or mentally stressed — our cortisol levels will rise. In other words, cortisol is a response to our stress — it doesn’t cause it.

The dangers of high levels of cortisol

Everyone has high cortisol from time to time — perhaps during an intense workout or during a stressful work call. As Alexander explains, these cortisol spikes are not only normal, they’re “part of our bodies’ natural regulatory system”.

However, she adds, if our cortisol levels remain high, it can become a health issue.

“If your cortisol levels are high for a long time it can cause diabetes, weight gain, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, depression and more,” she says. “It’s important to note that the severity and risk of this depends on the cause, how high the cortisol level is and for how long it has been elevated.”

Do you really have dangerously high levels of cortisol?

As Alexander explains, there are two separate causes of high cortisol — lifestyle and medical.

A lifestyle cause would be chronic stress. “This can present with symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, depression, intestinal problems, irritability, fatigue, high blood pressure and more,” she says.

However, there are also medical conditions that can lead to chronic high cortisol. “Cushing’s syndrome is a medical condition where one has significantly elevated cortisol levels,” she notes. “These patients experience a mix of symptoms, which may include high blood pressure, bruising easily, experience muscle weakness, excessive body hair, weight gain, mood swings or sexual dysfunction. If you are worried about any of these symptoms it is important to discuss these with your GP.”

High cortisol can also occur as a side effect of certain medications. “In these circumstances it’s very important not to stop medications abruptly as this can cause more problem,” she says. “Instead I would encourage you to discuss a plan with your doctor.”

How to reduce cortisol

Because stress causes cortisol to spike (not the other way around), Alexander suggests tackling the root of the problem rather than immediately resorting to the cortisol-lowering wellness hacks you might come across on TikTok.

“If your increased cortisol levels are related to stress then the first port of call would be treating the root cause through stress management techniques,” she says. “With that said, stress is a complex topic and blanket approaches don’t work because the causes of stress are usually multifactorial.”

She adds, “Stress management strategies depend on the source of the stress and must be individualised. Suggestions include a healthy balanced diet, regular exercise, prioritising sleep, guided meditation, breathwork, taking breaks at work, connecting with friends and family in the evening or at the weekend, journalling or enjoying hobbies.”

Healthy habits to keep your cortisol levels healthy throughout the day

While your first port of call should always be to tackle your stress, the wellness hacks we see on TikTok can also be useful for maintaining healthy cortisol levels throughout the day.

Everything from “a healthy balanced diet with lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, oily fish and a diverse range of fruits and vegetables” to “limiting caffeine” to maintaining a regular sleep schedule can help.



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