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The Top 8 Supplements to Reduce Cortisol Naturally

The Top 8 Supplements to Reduce Cortisol Naturally

It is time to take a deep dive into our top supplements to reduce cortisol naturally in the form of adaptogenic herbs. 

It may seem that adaptogens are popping up everywhere on supplements and food products…

We get it. There are many false claims being made in an effort to snatch your hard-earned dollars.

We understand how incredibly confusing and frustrating buying and researching supplements can be. Especially in today’s day in age where there are just so many options to choose from. Not to fret friends, we are here to help!

There is also substantial research to support some of these natural remedies, and through clinical experience, we have started to identify which ones actually move the needle depending on you and your needs.

If you’re sick of flushing your money down the toilet on supplements that seem to have no positive impact on your stress levels and overall health, keep reading! We are going to dive deep learning about herbs that lower cortisol! 

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The First Step in Cortisol Reduction

As a disclaimer, before running straight to the supplement aisle to tame your stress, we always recommend learning first how to reduce cortisol naturally

In order to properly address your underlying stressors, using lifestyle factors and eating foods that relax muscles and reduce stress must be tackled first and foremost. 

Natural supplements (supplements should be…well…a supplement!) can be the 5-10% push to get you closer to where you want to be, but they are a drop in the bucket compared to making changes to the lifestyle pieces to lower stress. 

Now, if you’re confident you’re changing your diet and lifestyle in a way that gets your body into a state of “rest-and-digest” versus “fight-or-flight” mode, then these supplements may give you that bit of extra support needed to get you feeling your least stressed self. 

First things first, let’s quickly review what this stress hormone cortisol is. 

What Is Cortisol?

If you’ve read our previous article about how to reduce cortisol naturally you know a little bit about the complicated and highly resilient hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is our body’s primary stress hormone in the body, which can be both life-threatening and life deteriorating.

When your body undergoes a stressful situation, the brain sends a signal from the hypothalamus in the brain down to the adrenal glands that sit on the kidneys to pump out cortisol. This hormone literally helps you physically fight dangerous situations such as running from a bear in the woods or getting through your biking intervals.

Cortisol works phenomenally in emergencies, but chronic stress can create heightened levels of cortisol on a daily basis that become problematic.

So, is there anything we can do to attenuate these sky-high levels of cortisol when life stress is out of control? Yes, there is! Adaptogens!

Adaptogens are herbal pharmaceuticals that help you become more resistant to the negative effects of stress on the neuroendocrine-immune system. In other words, these natural cortisol reducers can stabilize the physiological responses to stress to make us feel more at peace and relaxed when we actually feel like we’re on a hamster wheel! 

As mentioned, adaptogens are not just pills to fit another ill. They should be used in conjunction with a stress-reducing diet and modification of lifestyle factors. It is important to understand that lowering stress and cortisol cannot be achieved with supplements alone. They are a drop in the bucket when compared to the pertinent dietary and lifestyle changes that will absolutely hold the most weight in reducing cortisol naturally. 

Without further or ado, let’s talk about some of the best and well-researched supplements to start balancing cortisol naturally! 

8 Supplements to Lower Cortisol

Ashwagandha berries or Indian ginseng which is made into a supplement to reduce cortisol.
Ashwagandha (Indian ginseng, poinson gooseberry, or winter cherry)
  1. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is one of the most popular adaptogenic herbs that has been shown to lower cortisol. It has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, in particular for anxiety. 

Research on ashwagandha has shown significant reductions in cortisol levels and a significant reduction in self-reported stress and anxiety symptoms by bringing the body into hormonal and neurotransmitter homeostasis. 

In a study with chronically stress individuals, participants were given 300 mg of high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root which showed significant reductions in serum cortisol compared to those who did not receive ashwagandha.[1] 

One of our favorite supplements to help lower cortisol levels and reduce anxiety mid-day or wind down in the evening is Cortisol Manager by Integrative Therapeutics, which contains ashwagandha, as well as several other adaptogenic herbs, discussed further down in this post. 

The immediate relaxation effect from this all-natural supplement is like nothing you have ever experienced before! The “zen” feeling that ashwagandha brings is REAL!

  1. Rhodiola

Rhodiola (Arctic root) is a Chinese herb known for its stress-reducing, stamina building, and mood stimulating effects in individuals who are fatigued from high stress or struggle with depression. 

In laboratory studies, it has been found to increase the sensitivity of dopamine and serotonin, two prominent neurotransmitters involved in motivation, focus, enjoyment, and mood.

Researchers reported positive results on mood and stress in individuals with stress-related fatigue stating that Rhodiola supplementation exerted an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental performance, concentration, and decreased cortisol response to awakening stress in patients with high levels of fatigue.[2] 

If you’re a person who feels more jittery and anxious, Rhodiola may not be the best choice for you. Whereas a person dealing with stress-related fatigue and depression who needs a little “wake-up” in the morning or mid-afternoon may benefit more from this herb’s ability to enhance mental performance.

  1. Schisandra
Schisandra berries hanging in a tree.

Schisandra, which is a berry used in traditional Chinese medicine, is a powerful herb that appears to be most applicable in well-trained athletes. It has a unique taste and is added frequently to health juices and drinks!

The plant has been shown to improve coordination and endurance. One study administered schisandra chinensis root in athletes undergoing heavy physical activity and reported decreased levels of cortisol and increased physical performance with adaptogen supplementation.[3] 

For those who are high-performance athletes, consider adding a scoop of schisandra powder to your post-workout smoothie or between meals! 

  1. Fish Oil

It’s no secret that we love omega 3 fish oil! Its ability to fight inflammation, improve symptoms of depression, decrease the risk of heart disease, improve insulin sensitivity, improve cognitive performance, and more is astounding.[4,5,6,7] 

Fish oil has even been shown to blunt the stress response by reducing cortisol levels in humans.[8,9]

Of course, you always want to go with professional-grade fish oil from a trusted company that practices third-party testing such as Nordic Naturals who tests each of their products for toxicity, and ensure the potency is exactly what the label claims. 

For athletes looking for something NSF Certified for Sport, your best best is Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega D3 Sport

Omega 3 supplementation or consumption of wild-caught fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, or anchovies about two times per week may be one of the safest and most effective ways to reduce cortisol and improve adrenal dysfunction when combined with an anti-stressful diet and lifestyle practices. 

Pro Tip: For the best prices on professional-grade supplements, check out the place where we buy, Wellevate. Wellevate offers professional-grade supplement brands, all screened for quality and processing standards, at the very best prices.

FWDfuel readers receive 20% off all orders and free shipping over $49 when using our Wellevate link to creat an account. We cannot provide direct links to products with Wellevate, but a quick search is all you need to find great products at an amazing price.

  1. L-Theanine

Where are the green tea lovers at?! We love, love to have ourselves some green tea as well.

Green tea is amazing not only for its smooth and delicious taste but it’s also rich in the amino acid L-theanine. This amino acid is the component of green tea that gives it its calming effect.

The great thing about l-theanine and green tea is that it gives you the feeling of “alertness” that coffee provides without making you feel jittery or spiking your cortisol. 

What more could you ask for?!

Our clients report noticeable differences in their cognitive performance and ability to relax with l-theanine supplementation. This amino acid has even been studied for its ability to reduce stress and cortisol levels, improve cognitive function, improve sleep, as well as other positive effects.

One randomized double-blind crossover trial explored the effects of an l-theanine-based nutrient drink on mood responses to a cognitive stressor and revealed a significant reduction in stress and a blunted cortisol response for up to three hours after following the treatment of l-theanine.[10] 

Consuming a few cups of green tea per day or considering a supplement of l-theanine may work wonders for reducing stress and improving energy without compromising your adrenal health. 

  1. Prebiotics 

As you may know, scientists are discovering groundbreaking associations between the gut microbiome and system-wide health every year. Providing the gut adequate amounts of prebiotics, which are types of dietary fiber that feed the friendly probiotic bacteria in your gut, is crucial for a balanced microbiome.

When the gut bacteria are balanced, the brain is happy. 

When the brain is happy, hormones are balanced, and cortisol levels are in check.

While this may sound like kook science, research findings are confirming the vast role gut bacteria play in our overall health, in particular stress levels.   

One study administered two different prebiotics in forty-five individuals for 3 weeks and reported a significantly lower salivary cortisol awakening response compared with those who did not receive prebiotic supplements.[11] 

This type of evidence suggesting that microbiota may influence brain function and cortisol levels in the body is a complete gamechanger. 

Check out our article for guidance on the best prebiotic supplements on the market. Or take a food-first approach by crushing lots of naturally occurring prebiotic-rich foods!

Prebiotic rich foods include:

  • Apples
  • Chicory root
  • Bananas
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Dandelion greens 
  • Jerusalem artichoke 
  • Leeks
  • Raw cacao
  • Flaxseeds
  • Jicama root 
  • Oats

Here we are again, talking about the gut! It all comes back to the gut…

We can significantly move the needle with stress and adrenal health by diving deep into the gut microbiome!

  1. Phosphatidylserine

Phosphatidylserine is a naturally occurring fatty substance produced in the body that plays a large role in the brain and nervous system control, helping to transmit messages all around the body.

This powerful cortisol blunting nutrient has been well researched in athletes who face heightened levels of cortisol, especially those engaging in moderate to high-intensity exercise.

It has proposed benefits for athletes revealing a more favorable testosterone to cortisol ratio, thus indicating that phosphatidylserine may be an effective supplement for combating exercise-induced stress, preventing the physiological deterioration from too much exercise, and stimulate a beneficial hormonal status for athletes by blunting cortisol levels.[12] 

Another study showed that 800 mg/d of phosphatidylserine supplementation for 10 days significantly blunted the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol responses to physical exercise in men, which again may we warranted in individuals with high levels of outside life stress on top of their exercise stress.[13] 

  1. Magnolia
Magnolia bark clippings which may help reduce stress from high cortisol.
Magnolia bark

Magnolia bark is a medicinal herb used in traditional Chinese and distributed throughout temperate and tropical regions of Asia, North America, and South America to help alleviate stress and decrease depression through its positive effects on the central nervous system.

In one clinical trial, magnolia reduced the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in moderately stressed individuals compared to placebo.[14] 

Interestingly, there has also been some preliminary research using magnolia for weight management in females. One study used healthy, overweight premenopausal female adults, between the ages of 20 and 50 years, who typically eat more in response to stressful situations and self-reported axiety. They found a reduction in cortisol levels and reductions in weight gain in the treatment group.[15] 

Well, there you have it, folks! Our top 8 supplements to reduce cortisol naturally! There is a mass-quantity of information out there and the marketing can drain your bank account and hope for results.

There is still substantial research needing to be done on most of these natural supplements, these are the ones that we find have some preliminary quality evidence for use and have worked well for lowering cortisol levels in the highly stressed individuals we work with! 

Lowering cortisol levels naturally is not an easy feat and will take a significant commitment to change the necessary lifestyle factors, but it will happen if you keep putting in the effort. Stay the course! You’ve got this!

Your fatigue and gut issues could be related to food sensitivities, thus embarking on an elimination diet may also be a necessary next step!

If you’ve tried an elimination diet, are actively trying to lower your cortisol, and have tested a few supplements to reduce cortisol naturally, it may be time to work one-on-one with a registered dietitian to get the personalized attention you need and work to get to the root of your health issues!

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573577/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19016404/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10228607/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3990713/
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165178115003844
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16552404/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24470182/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12909818/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2958879/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728665/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4410136/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2503954/
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1325348/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23924268/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16454147/

About The Author

Abby Vichill

Abby is a functionally trained Registered Dietitian. She received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Dayton and completed her Master of Science in Nutrition from Case Western Reserve University, where she is an adjunct instructor. Abby has been an athlete her entire life, but never truly discovered her potential until she dialed in her nutrition from a whole-foods approach. As a high school athlete and into her college career often experienced fatigue, discomfort, and nagging injuries that held her back from excelling despite trying to eat properly. Throughout her functional nutrition education and competitive involvement in the sport of Crossfit, Abby began a more holistic lifestyle, which has significantly improved her performance and overall well-being. Abby enjoys sharing her knowledge of functional sports nutrition to help improve the lives of active individuals.

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