10 Ways to Lower Cortisol, Fast!
Hormones are the chemical messengers of the body. Day after day, they move through our bloodstream, telling our organs, tissues, and cells what to do and how to behave.
Unfortunately, these messengers are easily influenced by outside factors.
In this article, we’ll talk about how one hormone – cortisol – can end up wreaking havoc in every corner of your life, from the gym to the bedroom and beyond.
What is Cortisol?
There’s really no such thing as “good” or “bad” hormones.
They all have jobs to do, and they operate more or less automatically whenever they’re ordered to do so.
In the case of cortisol, that job is mainly to control your stress response, control how your body uses fats, proteins, and carbs, and regulate things like blood pressure, blood sugar, and inflammation.
Cortisol is what’s known as a “steroid hormone.”
It’s produced by your adrenal glands, which sit on top of your kidneys.
As we already mentioned, cortisol is often released alongside adrenaline and glucose (blood sugar) during times of stress.
Back in the “caveman era,” this was integral to our dodging giant killer birds and mammoths.
Nowadays, cortisol release is just as likely to result from getting a bagel without cream cheese or being forced to deal with an unruly customer at work.
Unfortunately, our bodies can’t exactly tell the difference between one threat and another.
So even though you’re not “in danger,” your adrenal glands will release cortisol all the same.
As we’ll see, this oversaturation can end up causing some big problems.
The Causes of High Cortisol In Men
A misplaced fight or flight response is actually just one of the many reasons a guy might end up with consistently high cortisol levels.
After all, the modern world is awash with problems our caveman ancestors didn’t have to deal with.
Let’s take a look at some of the main culprits…
Stress and High Cortisol
Stress is practically unavoidable, as it can come from almost any stimuli or source.
The problems start to crop up when stress becomes a constant in our lives.
When this happens, your body starts to establish a new threshold for what it considers “normal” cortisol.
As stress continues, this threshold moves higher and higher.
In many cases, your body will become addicted to cortisol and trigger your fight or flight response over practically insignificant problems – just to get its fix!
If stress rolls off you like water off an elephant’s back, it’s still possible to develop chronically high cortisol levels, (and all of the problems that go with it.
I’m talking about a disorder known as Cushing’s Syndrome.
No, it doesn’t give you amazing cheekbones, but it does cause your body to produce way too much cortisol over extended periods.
The good(ish) news is that Cushing’s Syndrome is somewhat rare in men.
Still, the complications, which include heart attack, stroke, and blood clots, leave a lot to be desired.
Overtraining Causes High Cortisol in Men
We’re major proponents of staying healthy, fit, and strong, especially as you get older. But here’s the problem: some men just take it too far.
So if you’re over-training and not leaving proper time for rest and recovery in between sprint sessions, lifts, etc, your body may start extending the cortisol release that occurs during workouts.
When this happens, it can quickly become chronic.
Try to keep in mind that even world-class athletes are susceptible to Overtraining Syndrome, leading poor recovery, inflammation, fatigue and insomnia.
Lack of Sleep Increases Cortisol
While science may not quite understand why we sleep, we do know that this nightly time out is essential to the proper functioning of our bodies.
In fact, many studies have shown a direct link between sleep, stress, and our metabolic functions.
Without proper sleep (or enough quality sleep), our bodies start producing cortisol at higher levels.
Over time, this can be just as damaging as anything else on this list.
Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Drinking alcohol is one of the oldest human pastimes, and it can be rather hard to avoid.
And while there’s nothing wrong with knocking back a cold one or two once or twice a week, excessive alcohol consumption can do serious damage to your body.
Most health experts tend to focus on your liver, heart, etc. when explaining the dangers of drinking.
But chronic booze consumption is also tied to elevated cortisol levels (source).
Certain Medications Cause High Cortisol
I shouldn’t have to tell you my thoughts on pharmaceuticals.
And while I relish the chance to get up on my soapbox, I’ll let the science do the talking for me.
You see, certain types of medications are directly tied to elevated cortisol levels.
The main culprit? Corticosteroids.
However, you also need to watch out for prednisone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone.
Aside from the listed side effects, these medications can also lead to surges in cortisol that are difficult to reverse.
Pituitary Gland Issues
As the old saying goes, “one gland washes the other.” OK, so it’s not that old of a saying.
Either way, your pituitary gland, which sits at the base of your brain, controls a lot of what happens with the rest of your endocrine system.
So if your pituitary gland starts to malfunction, it can send signals to your adrenal glands, encouraging them to release cortisol without any good reason.
Elevated Estrogen and High Cortisol
With any luck, you already know that elevated estrogen levels are a big-time problem for anyone with balls.
This is because estrogen exists in a constant balance with testosterone.
If one goes up, the other goes down, and vice versa.
However, you often don’t hear how a boost in estrogen levels can spike your cortisol into the stratosphere.
But it’s true! In fact, estrogen issues are the most common cause of high cortisol levels in women.
Blood Sugar Issues Cause High Cortisol In Men
We mentioned in the last section that cortisol release is almost always accompanied by a surge in blood sugar levels.
While it makes sense that increased cortisol will lead to higher glucose, the opposite is also true.
In studies of patients with blood sugar problems (like diabetes), researchers consistently saw higher cortisol levels in both male and female patients.
This is most likely due to the stress that the condition puts on the body. Still, it isn’t hard to see how fast you can enter a “vicious cycle.”
Excessive Caffeine Intake Increases Cortisol
I have no desire to ruin coffee and alcohol for you in the same section, but it’s important that you understand how excessive caffeine intake can spike your cortisol.
As a central nervous system stimulant, studies show that caffeine eventually alters your response to stress, exercise, and food.
This means that when excessive caffeine intake becomes a habit, it skews our cortisol levels higher regardless of what we’re doing or eating.
Systemic infections have also been shown to cause abnormally high plasma cortisol levels (source).
This makes sense, as our immune systems view infections as major stressors.
As your body attempts to perform important immune system tasks, it will release cortisol to help counter inflammation.
In cases where infections are frequent, this circulating cortisol can end up doing more harm than good.
Low Carb Diets and High Cortisol
While cutting carbs is all the rage right now, most serious nutritionists will tell you it’s a big mistake.
You see, your body needs glycogen (the storage form of glucose) to perform a wide variety of tasks.
If these stores are depleted for too long, the body will release more cortisol to convert muscle tissue into glucose, a process known as gluconeogenesis (source).
This often happens to people following a low carb diet at night while sleeping, as certain parts of the brain must have glucose to function.
Malnutrition and Elevated Cortisol in Men
While you might think it’s not as common as most of the other conditions on this list, it’s worth noting that most people suffer from some form of nutritional deficiency.
While that alone is bad enough, chronic malnutrition can drastically affect cortisol levels.
Understandably, malnutrition – including conditions related to vitamin deficiency and excess – can put severe and long-term stress on a person’s body.
Worst of all, many sufferers can appear perfectly healthy on the outside.
Symptoms of High Cortisol in Men
Regardless of why your cortisol is elevated, there’s no denying that this issue can lead to some very nasty problems.
Of course, we’ll save the worst (erectile dysfunction) for last.
However, it’s important that you keep an eye out for any of these symptoms. Most of them will show up long before you’ll notice a difference in the angle of your dangle.
- Weight Gain – You’ll mostly notice extra pounds along your midsection. Not only will it be rather pronounced, but also near impossible to lose.
- Moon Face – Common in “Cushing Syndrome” (see above), this is when extra fat builds up on the sides of your face.
- Slow Wound Healing – When stress becomes a constant in your life, the resulting glucocorticoid production often causes your wounds to heal much more slowly.
- Bruising Easily – One of the first signs of elevated cortisol levels is a tendency to bruise easily, especially on the extremities.
- Muscle Weakness – When you experience high cortisol levels over a long period, it begins to affect your muscle tissue, causing weakness.
- Fatigue – Lethargy and fatigue are common in most adrenal gland disorders, as the over-expenditure eventually keeps your body from operating at optimum levels.
- Irritability – When you look at what cortisol is designed to do, it makes sense that you might feel angry when your levels remain elevated. After all, what’s a fight or flight response to do without a fight?
- High Blood Pressure – When your adrenal glands release cortisol, your blood pressure naturally rises along with it. Again, this is an example of a necessary function becoming a chronic issue over time.
- Hair Thinning – Of the many signals cortisol spreads through your body is a special message to your hair follicles to stop growing. If levels remain elevated for long periods, this could cause your hair to thin and fall out.
- Memory and Concentration Issues – According to studies, having your cortisol levels elevated over the long term leads to poor cognitive function and memory problems.
- Digestive Issues – Your gut is one of the first places to suffer after bouts of long-term stress. The most common problems are IBS and IBD, GERD, acid reflux, and ulcers.
- Depression and Anxiety – Chronic stress is both a cause and symptom of depression and anxiety. Without proper management, you could enter a cycle that’s very hard to break.
- High Blood Sugar – When you encounter a stressful situation, cortisol releases signals telling your body to tap into the sugar stores hidden in your liver. As you might expect, the more cortisol in your blood, the longer this process (called gluconeogenesis) continues.
- Insomnia – Cortisol screws with your body’s natural rhythm, which can drastically affect your sleep quality. The longer this goes on, the more trouble you’ll have falling and staying asleep.
- Low Testosterone – High cortisol levels depress your testosterone production, which is “square one” for most male sexual problems.
- Low Sex Drive – As cortisol starts to become the dominant hormone in your body, your brain will start to shut down the “fun factory.” The way your system sees it, you’re under far too much stress to worry about procreating anyway.
Cortisol and Erectile Dysfunction
At long last, we get to the meat (pun intended) of our discussion.
Here, we’ll expand on those final two points from the previous section.
However, we’ll also take a look at some studies that show just how much cortisol can throw a wrench into your tool.
It’s not an exciting conversation, I know, but it’s an important one to have.
Let’s get started…
Cortisol Lowers Your Testosterone Levels
Different hormones often exist in a sort of “tug of war” inside your body.
We’ve talked about this extensively when discussing the complex relationship between estrogen and testosterone.
However, according to studies like this one from 2005, chronically elevated cortisol enjoys the same see-saw relationship with your T.
You see, as your body produces and circulates more cortisol, it suppresses the production of testosterone.
Essentially, your body thinks it’s in a near-constant state of danger, and keeping your T levels high just doesn’t have the same priority level as getting you out of harm’s way.
Eventually, your gonads will simply get used to producing less testosterone, and your sex drive will take a nosedive.
Cortisol Constricts Your Blood Vessels
While we don’t often think of them from a scientific standpoint, your average erection has several main ingredients.
Among the most important is blood.
You see, in order to stiffen and enlarge, the capillaries in your member need a fresh supply of oxygen-rich blood.
The easier this flows to and fro’ inside your veins, the better (and harder) the results.
However, studies clearly demonstrate how high cortisol levels constrict the blood vessels, especially those present in the penis.
Over time, this obstruction can become permanent and further worsened by high levels of gunk in your veins.
Without the ability to vasodilate effectively, the quality of your erections will only worsen.
Cortisol Wrecks Your Cardiovascular System
If you look back at the list of high cortisol effects we mentioned, you’ll see “high blood pressure” sitting right in the middle.
While all that pumping blood can be helpful if you’re running from a prehistoric beast or maxing out at the gym, it only causes damage when you’re sitting at your desk or stuck in traffic.
In fact, there have been thousands of studies on how and why blood pressure issues destroy your cardiovascular system.
However, some like this help remind us that this isn’t just a problem for the old guys.
It’s actually pretty simple: the more your heart operates at full capacity, the more likely you’ll damage your arteries and hinder blood flow.
As we’ve already mentioned, that’s one of the easiest ways to hinder your erectile function.
Cortisol Causes “Hormonal Chaos”
We started this section by talking about how some hormones interact with others.
Well, as it turns out, cortisol might be the “granddaddy” of all hormonal agitators.
Take this study from 2004, for example. It explores the various connections between gonadal and stress hormones with schizophrenia diagnosis.
Of course, we already talked about the fact that prolonged cortisol exposure can cause depression and anxiety, both of which have potent sexual side effects.
But the mood disorders don’t stop there.
Indeed, stress can actually upset the way you interact with your partner, hindering pair-bonding while making you hostile and detached.
Let’s put it this way: have you ever been stressed out of your mind, depressed, and anxious? If so, how many surprise erections did you experience?
How to Lower Cortisol in Men (10 Tips)
Sorry to front-load our discussion with so much negative talk about symptoms, causes, and problems.
However, it’s absolutely crucial that you understand just how much damage chronically elevated cortisol levels can do.
If you’re living a modern lifestyle where stress is considered an hourly hazard, it’s essential that you take steps to reduce the effects cortisol will have on your body and your sex life.
To help you, I’ll outline 10 specific strategies you can use to lower your cortisol levels and keep your sack game strong.
1. Walk Outside in Nature
I’ve always been a proponent of nature’s ability to heal us, whether we’re talking about herbal supplements or something deeper.
In this case, it’s the latter. You see, our brains haven’t quite adapted to the madness of modern technology.
If you take the time to treat yourself to a walk out in nature, the rewards could be significant.
For instance, this 2019 study looked into the ways walking in a forest environment could affect your cortisol concentration.
Of the 74 men who took part in the study, most saw significant decreases in active salivary cortisol after a short walk in the woods.
In fact, some men demonstrated reductions just by viewing scenes of a tranquil forest.
2. Meditate to Lower Cortisol Levels in Men
You might have heard that places like Japan, Korea, and China have just as toxic a stress culture as we do, yet they don’t suffer the sexual side effects to near the same degree.
Though there are loads of reasons why this might be the case, one that often receives attention from doctors is our Eastern neighbors’ predilection for meditation.
Indeed, a study from 2013, found that “mindfulness meditation” can significantly reduce serum cortisol levels in both men and women.
One of the best things about mediation is that the results seem to be cumulative.
The longer you practice it, the less stress will affect you in the future.
3. More Natural – Less Unnatural Light Exposure
If the artificial lights in your cubicle tend to bug you, there might very well be a stress-related reason.
You see, incandescent, fluorescent, neon, and even LED lights are all just a pale comparison to the real thing.
While they help us get through the day, they don’t do our cortisol levels any favors. In fact, according to this study, they contribute to a host of mood and sleep problems.
Fortunately, there’s a simple fix: get some exposure to natural sunlight.
After all, research shows that even short periods outside cause your body to immediately start lowering your cortisol levels.
Combine that with the natural Vitamin D from sunlight, and you’ll likely notice a difference in a matter of minutes.
4. Control Caffeine Intake to Lower Cortisol
Way back at the beginning of this article, we discussed how drinking too much caffeine can create spikes in your cortisol levels.
We also showed that in the long term, this central nervous system stimulant will actually change the way your brain reacts to stress in the future.
Still, as the most widely consumed drug in the world, caffeine can be hard to avoid.
Fortunately, you don’t have to quit caffeine entirely in order to stave off the inevitable stunting of your sex drive.
You just need to make sure you’re not imbibing it to the point that you’re getting jittery.
A cup or two in the morning won’t have much negative effect, but slamming energy drinks all day long is a recipe for disaster.
5. Take Three Deep Breaths to Lower Cortisol
In the world of life-changing advice, this has to be the simplest example out there.
And while it might seem like a bunch of hooey, there’s legitimate scientific evidence that deliberate diaphragmatic breathing can help reduce stress almost immediately (source).
Think of it as giving your body a chance to catch up and realize that there isn’t actually a threat out there.
Simultaneously, the slowed rate of breathing and increased oxygen will help turn the cortisol pump to the “off” position.
With some training, your body will actually learn to recognize those deep breaths as a cue to take an all-natural chill pill.
6. Take Up a New Hobby to Reduce Cortisol
I know some of you are rolling your eyes at this one, but humor me for a minute.
Hobbies like gardening (horticultural therapy), art, carpentry, and even playing sports have been shown to have dramatic effects on stress levels.
In fact, horticultural therapy is currently being used to help reduce PTSD symptoms and depression in combat veterans
So, no, you aren’t “too tough” for gardening.
In general, hobbies are remarkably good for us. The problem is that we either don’t make time for them or think that drinking with our friends on the weekend is a “hobby.”
If you want the reduced stress, lowered cortisol, and overall improved well-being that comes from having a regular pastime activity, that activity needs to be creative, positive, and constructive.
7. Avoid Low–Calorie Starvation Diets
When I listed the causes of high cortisol levels earlier, I’m sure you glossed right over “malnutrition.”
After all, that’s hardly a problem that most healthy adults have to deal with, right?
Therein lies the problem.
Malnutrition doesn’t just refer to people who are skinny or suffering from some terrible disease.
Anyone who doesn’t get the right amount and type of nutrients qualifies.
For instance, studies show that around 94.3% of US adults are deficient in Vitamin D, which is a powerful anti-depressant.
Similar numbers lack proper amounts of iron, iodine, calcium, magnesium, and other micronutrients.
One of the main contributing factors to this shortfall? Our culture’s love of low-calorie diets.
Like it or now, we are omnivores, and our bodies need a wide variety of vitamins and minerals to operate properly.
In some cases (as with carbs), these exclusive diets can even start robbing us of macronutrients.
Unfortunately, when your body doesn’t get what it needs, it defaults to a condition of stress.
And you know what that means: more cortisol and more problems.
8. Cook Your Food in Cocoa Butter
The health benefits of dark chocolate are actually quite well-established.
However, you might be surprised to find out that cocoa can help shield us from our body’s natural stress reactions and dull cortisol release.
In fact, according a study from 2014, regular consumption significantly reduces our chances of developing cardiovascular disease too.
In order to get the right amount of cocoa in your diet and avoid taking in too much sugar, many experts recommend you try using cocoa butter for cooking.
Not only does it taste great, but it has a higher smoke point, so you can avoid losing the oil’s nutrients and replacing them with free radicals.
When in doubt, a bit of dark chocolate is also perfectly healthy.
9. Eat More Gelatin to Reduce Cortisol
I’ve spoken several times in this article about the difference between our modern world and the one our ancestors lived in.
It might seem like a stretch, but when you consider that we’ve only been “civilized” for 50,000 or the 300,000 years humans have been human, it makes a lot more sense.
You see, our great1000 grandparents weren’t what you’d call picky eaters.
When they killed a mammoth or saber-toothed tiger, they would eat the entire carcass – bones and all.
Nowadays, we mostly just consume the muscle meat, which can lead to amino acid imbalances that contribute to nutrient-based stress.
One way to fix this? Add some gelatin to your diet.
After all, gelatin (which is made of collagen, bones, and connective tissue) is loaded with amino acids like proline and glycine.
These are neurotransmitter inhibitors, which means they can help lower cortisol levels.
In fact, gelatin is one of the most potent “hormone balancers” in the food world. Luckily, there’s always room for it.
10. Deal with Relationship Negativity
So far, we’ve mostly related non-medical cortisol problems to stress from work and the frustrations of daily life.
However, there’s no ignoring the fact that one of the biggest sources of stress for men comes from our relationships.
More specifically: our relationships with our significant others.
For instance: are you the type to stay in an unhappy, unsatisfying, or toxic relationship?
Are you the sort to not speak up and let your marriage turn from 50/50 into 90/10?
Even if you don’t notice it at first, this can be a huge source of internal stress.
Every time you internalize your emotions, you’re creating a surge of cortisol that will have disastrous effects.
If your relationship is in danger, start working on how to fix it.
If it’s damaged beyond repair, your partner will likely be just as happy to see it end as you.
How to Lower Cortisol in Men Conclusion
Well, there you have it: perhaps the most intensive and thorough discussion of cortisol, it’s causes, and what it can do to you on the internet.
I hope you’ll consider this article a major resource for all your questions related to stress and sex.
After all, as we’ve seen, the consequences of letting cortisol get out of hand can be disastrous for virtually every organ in your body.