Imagine the following scenario:
You train hard in the gym, diligently applying the Rule of Progressive Overload, the Rule of Progressive Resistance, and above all, the Rule of Progressive of Intensity; ideally to achieve maximum intensity, so that you can build “maximum muscle in minimum time”.
You also get the ideal amount of aerobic exercise each day, and you eat a high-quality, well-balanced diet with nothing but nutritious, natural, whole foods. You might even be taking muscle-building supplements, such as creatine, whey protein and leucine. And if you’re lucky, you’re getting the optimum 8-9 hours of high-quality sleep a day.
But you still can’t build the amount of muscle you want, if any at all. Nor can you get rid of that excess amount of belly fat that’s accumulated over time.
Does this sound familiar? Well, it may not be your problem individually. But I hear about cases like this all the time. And chances are, you have too.
So what’s the cause of this problem? The answer could very well be stress. Or more specifically, the cortisol that your body produces and circulates throughout your body, when your under stress.
Cortisol: the Catabolic Hormone That Eats Muscle Tissue!
The stress hormone “cortisol” has become a hot topic in the fields of health and fitness, during the past decade or so. And this is especially true amongst bodybuilders, and anyone who wants to build muscle, lose excess body fat, and retain what muscle they have. And after reading this entire article, you’ll know exactly why.
And even if building muscle isn’t your thing, if your goals are to remain youthful, healthy and fit your entire life, and live as long as possible, this article is for you too.
Years ago, when noted bodybuilding guru Joe Weider stated that “lifestyle”, more specifically a “stress–free lifestyle”, was highly effective for building muscle, people thought, “What does stress have to do with building muscle?”
Well, now we know better.
Although a certain amount of cortisol is necessary for good health and survival, cortisol also has a catabolic effect. Which means that cortisol actually “breaks down” muscle tissue, gradually causing your muscles to shrink and atrophy! In fact, that’s one of the functions of cortisol: it breaks down muscle tissue, and converts it to sugar, to provide you with the extra energy you need in a stressful situation, or at a time of crisis.
Now that may be good, if you’re in a life-threatening or dangerous situation. But what about when you’re not in a life-threatening situation, and you still encounter relatively trivial stressors, as we all do? We’ll, you’ll still get that surge in cortisol in response to those stressors. Only now, there won’t be any good reason for all that excess cortisol flooding throughout your body.
And since one of the functions of cortisol is to break down muscle tissue (as well as other types of tissue, such as bone tissue and brain tissue), the excess cortisol will do exactly that.
And that can negate and cancel out the anabolic (i.e. “muscle-building”) effects from all that hard work you did in the gym, to build all that muscle!
Excess Cortisol Lowers Testosterone Levels
And it gets worse: not only does excess cortisol break down muscle tissue; it also lowers your testosterone levels as well. And since adequate testosterone is required for muscle growth, that makes it “doubly hard” to build or retain muscle, when you’re under chronic stress, with excess amounts of cortisol flooding your body.
There are 2 reasons why excess cortisol lowers testosterone levels:
1) Cortisol and testosterone are both made from the same precursor hormone: pregnenolone. So when cortisol is elevated, it uses up more pregnenolone, thereby leaving less of the hormone for making the male sex hormone, testosterone.
2) According to endocrinologist Matthew Hardy, testicles produce an enzyme called 11ßHSD-1. This enzyme protects testosterone from the potentially destructive effects of cortisol.
But when cortisol levels get too high, there isn’t enough of the enzyme to counteract the effects of the cortisol. So as a result, a lot of the testosterone molecules will be destroyed, before they leave the testicles, as explained in Hardy’s study.
So cortisol generally has an “inverse relationship” with testosterone; and with the other anabolic hormones (insulin and growth hormone) as well.
Generally, the higher your cortisol levels are, the lower your levels of anabolic hormones (testosterone, insulin, growth hormone) will be. And that certainly isn’t good for muscle growth.
Furthermore, cortisol also has an inverse relationship with DHEA, which is an important anti-aging, pro-youth hormone. So the higher your cortisol levels are, the lower your DHEA levels will probably be.
More Stress, More Myostatin, Less Muscle Growth
And if excess cortisol and lower testosterone isn’t enough, there’s yet another way that stress inhibits muscle growth: myostatin.
You may have heard or read about myostatin. It’s is a negative growth factor produced by your body, that actually suppresses muscle growth.
So researchers have been seeking ways to inhibit or even block myostatin for years. And there are some supplements (creatine, leucine, HMB, cacao extract) that are believed to do that, thereby promoting muscle growth.
And this study shows that “psychological stress”, such a losing a loved one, losing your job, ending a relationship, getting in an argument, etc., actually gets your body to produce more myostatin, thereby hampering muscle growth.
Myostatin is actually believed to be an even more powerful inhibitor of muscle growth than cortisol is. So there’s one more compelling reason why you should make a good “stress management plan” an integral part of your lifestyle.
Cortisol: the “Pro-Aging” Hormone
“Of all the destructive, pro-inflammatory and pro-aging forces I have observed as a physician, nothing compares with the negative effects of stress.”
Dr. Nicholas Perricone
Everyone knows that stress ages you faster. But most people don’t know why it ages you faster. Well, it’s largely due to all that excess cortisol, which can wreak havoc on your entire body, by causing tissue destruction and system breakdown.
So if the destruction of muscle tissue, the lowering of testosterone, and the production of more myostatin isn’t bad enough, excess cortisol can also:
- increase abdominal fat gain
- lower DHEA levels
- weaken your immune system
- cause cardiovascular disease
- shrink your brain (by breaking down brain tissue), leading to cognitive decline and mental dysfunction
- reduce glucose utilization, making you more prone to develop type II diabetes
- cause “insulin resistance”, which can lead to type II diabetes
- cause osteoporosis (by breaking down bone tissue)
- cause thinning of the skin and wrinkles (by breaking down collagen)
- hasten the shortening of the telomeres, which are strands of DNA at the ends your chromosomes, that determine your true biological age
- accelerate the aging process overall
So if building and retaining muscle mass, losing excess body fat, and keeping yourself young, healthy, and fit for as long as possible are your priorities, then keeping cortisol under control should be one of your priorities too!
And this article is all about the many ways that you can do exactly that, naturally.
The Importance of Cortisol
Cortisol is a “double-edged sword”. A certain amount of cortisol is actually required for good health, and even for our survival. Cortisol is required to induce a feeling of “wakefulness” in the morning, so that you can go out and take on the challenges that the new day has to offer you.
That’s why your levels of cortisol are normally highest in the morning. Then they gradually decline as the day progresses, so that you have the lowest levels of cortisol at the end of the day, just before bed. Or at least that’s the way it should be.
Cortisol is also key to regulating blood sugar and inflammation. It plays a role in the muscle glycogen storage/release process. It’s needed for the proper metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. And a deficiency of cortisol can cause weakness and fatigue.
It’s when excess, unnecessary amounts of cortisol are secreted into the blood, and remain in the blood for a prolonged period of time (as when you’re under chronic stress), that cortisol causes problems.
So ideally, you want to have just enough cortisol to carry out the vital functions of the hormone in regards to health, fitness and survival; but not so much cortisol that it damages and breaks down your body, and sabotages your health.
Furthermore, you want to have your cortisol levels rise and fall naturally at the right times, throughout the day and night, in sync with your Circadian rhythm (your sleep-wake cycle). Just as nature intended.
The problem is that most of us who are under a lot of stress, especially continual chronic stress, have way too much unnecessary cortisol floating around in our bodies. And that will do nothing but harm.
What Causes Excess Amounts of Cortisol in the Blood?
The surge in cortisol is triggered by the “fight or flight” response to stress. And the stress can be either physical or psychological in origin.
Furthermore, a stressor can be “life-threatening”, or it can be relatively harmless or benign. Either way, you’ll get a release of cortisol into the blood.
An example of physical stress would be running a marathon. An example of psychological stress would be waiting in a hospital, to have some high-risk medical procedure done.
Other examples of psychological stress would be public speaking (if that type of activity generates anxiety for you), getting in a argument with someone, or getting stuck in a traffic jam (if that upsets you).
Even worse, a stressor can be both physical and psychological in origin.
Have you seen the movie Apocalypto ? Imagine living some 500 years ago, during the time of the ancient Mayans, and you’re being chased by a group of Mayans, who are out to capture you, so that they can sacrifice you to the gods, at one of their temples.
You’re adrenals secret adrenaline and cortisol in response to the threat, providing you with extra energy, thereby enabling you to outrun them. And then finally, you escape by climbing up a tree.
But then once you’re up in the tree, you suddenly find yourself face-to-face with a black jaguar, that’s ready to attack!
Now in a life-threatening situation like that, cortisol is obviously your friend. When you’re confronted with an acute stressor like that, your adrenal glands automatically secrete cortisol and adrenaline. And that increases the flow of glucose to the tissues, thereby providing you with more energy. Which then enables you to function more quickly, more strongly, and more efficiently, in order to deal with the threat at hand, and avoid danger. So the release of cortisol is part of a built-in survival mechanism that nature has provided us with.
But nowadays we rarely have any life-threatening stressors like the “Mayan Indian-black jaguar chase” to deal with. Unless, of course, you get chased by a car!
Yet modern life can still be incredibly stressful. And we still have a lot of other stressors of different kinds to deal with, although ones that are relatively benign and not life-threatening.
We have to pay bills, work long hours, go without sleep, meet deadlines, deal with conflicts in our relationships, experience loud noises that our ancestors never had to deal with; and so on.
And those stressors, although not dangerous, can cause the same surge in cortisol levels that the life-threatening situations do! But since were not burning off that extra energy by fighting off a black jaguar, that additional energy is likely to be stored as excess body fat.
And since most of the stressors that we experience today are inherently harmless, the surges of cortisol that we experience in most of those situations of today serve no useful purpose, and do a lot more harm than good.
So the “stress response”, and the cortisol that goes along with it, can save your life. But over a longer period of time, if left unchecked, it can also kill you!
Thus, I’ve compiled a list of all the ways I could find that lower cortisol levels naturally. And the good thing is that reducing levels of this potentially pro-aging, catabolic hormone can actually be a relaxing, enjoyable, even fun experience!
So here we go:
1) Train Hard, but Train Smart!
If you want to stay healthy, strong, youthful and fit for as long as you live, working out should definitely be a part of your lifestyle. And that’s simply because strength-training with weights is the only way you can slow, stop or even reverse the loss of muscle and bone that normally occurs as you get older. Even aerobic exercise, as good as it is, can’t do that.
Plus, weight-training is one of the most effective ways to increase your testosterone levels naturally, and increase the release of growth hormone into the blood.
That’s why I believe that if there is a fountain of youth, it’s simply the heavy metal in your local gym!
With that said, you don’t want to exercise too much, whether it be strength-training or aerobic exercise, for the following reasons:
First, as great as strength-training is, too much of a good thing at once, or too often, can lead to overtraining. And overtraining can cause cortisol levels to soar and testosterone levels to plunge. And since excess cortisol breaks down muscle tissue, that makes it harder to build muscle (study1,study2).
So unless you’re absolutely in love with a sport that involves endurance exercise, just skip it. Otherwise, it may be damn hard for you to build any muscle.
Third, if you’re under a lot of chronic, prolonged stress, then working out at the gym might not be advisable; at least if we go by this study, showing that working out can induce an even greater release of cortisol, when you’re under a lot of stress.
However, I’m not so sure about that study. I know that whenever I’m under a lot of stress, working out always makes me feel better. But then I’ve never measured my cortisol levels after working out, whether I’m under a lot of stress or not.
If you’re goals are to build “maximum muscle in minimum time”, maximize testosterone and growth hormone, and keep cortisol levels in check, then do “super-intense”, “super-short” weight-training exercises. And keep your workout sessions relatively short, for about 3-5 times a week.
And the best workout plan that I know for that is Maximum Intensity Strength Training (MIST).
MIST is a groundbreaking plan that enables you to generate maximum intensity, and build “maximum muscle in minimum time”, simply by doing weight-training exercises that last only 1-6 seconds each!
For aerobic exercise and cardio, opt for exercises that are high intensity, and thus very short in duration. Do sprinting, high intensity interval training, and vigorous walking, rather than endurance training.
In fact, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden recently discovered something interesting that happens in muscle cells, as a result of short, high-intensity aerobic exercise:
They had people perform 30 seconds of maximum-exertion cycling, followed by a short period of rest. They had the subjects repeat that 6 times, and then examined their muscle tissue to observe the effects.
Amazingly, just 6 short burst of high intensity exercise, followed by rest, triggered a noticeable generation of healthy new mitochondria in all of the participants of the study!
And biochemical analysis revealed why this happened: it was found that “intense, short” bouts of exercise broke down calcium channels in the muscle cells, and signaled those cells to increase production of new mitochondria, to improve muscular endurance.
The results of this study are significant, because one of the keys to staying young is to create more mitochondria, since they’re the energy sources of the cells, which we lose as we get older.
And that’s exactly what this type of exercise was found to do: it gets your muscle cells to produce more mitochondria, in just a few minutes of high-intensity exercise per day!
Also, remember to do “static stretching” daily, especially immediately following your workout sessions. Stretching actually lowers cortisol levels, increases flexibility, relaxes you, and should be a part of any good, overall exercise plan.
And for that, I highly recommend Active Isolated Stretching (AIS), as explained in The Wharton’s Stretch Book, by Phil and Jim Wharton.
To obtain a copy of the book, click on The Stretch Book.
2) Don’t Overdo the Caffeine
Coffee has come to be known as a healthful beverage that may actually lower your chances of developing heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and liver disease. And some studies even indicate that drinking coffee may help you live longer!
Plus, caffeine ingested pre-workout has even been shown to increase testosterone levels by about 15% (study).
All of that makes coffee seem pretty enticing to me, even to the point where I’d call it a “super-food”!
Caffeine and coffee have become popular supplements to take pre-workout, because they can boost your performance and enable you to get a better workout. But the potentially anabolic effects of the caffeine (from the boost in testosterone) may be cancelled out by the potentially catabolic effects of the caffeine (from the boost in cortisol).
Thus, the caffeine would probably lower the testosterone/cortisol ratio post-workout, which is considered by many to be an important factor, in regards to muscle growth.
The one study I cited above found that when you ingest caffeine daily, you develop a tolerance to it, thereby reducing the amount of cortisol that’s released. But the cortisol-inducing effects of the caffeine aren’t totally abolished.
So my advice is to avoid caffeine or coffee before your workouts. And when you do drink coffee or ingest caffeine, do so earlier in the day. In fact, morning is probably the best time of all to drink coffee, since your cortisol levels are supposed to be highest at that time of the day.
Avoid coffee or caffeine in the evening or close to bedtime however, when your cortisol levels should be low. Unless you plan on going out to a nightclub!
3) Laughter: the Best Medicine
You’ve heard it said before: laughter is the best medicine. So when was the last time your doctor prescribed a “double-dose of laughter” for you?
Well, here’s a study showing that laughter can lower cortisol levels. It was done in 1989, by researchers at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine.
The researchers found that when healthy adult males watched a 60 minute humor video, their cortisol levels dropped significantly, compared to those of a control group that didn’t watch anything.
Plus, growth hormone levels were also found to increase, due to the process of laughing. However, the growth hormone levels returned to normal, when the laughter subsided.
So maybe we should all “laugh out loud”, as long as possible, all day long; to stay as young and healthy as possible, for as long as possible, and live as long as possible!
4) Vitamin C is a Cortisol Buster!
Vitamin C may be the easiest, best and most cost-effective supplement to take, to lower cortisol levels. It’s actually been shown to reduce both the physical and psychological effects of stress on people.
An example of how Vitamin C blunted the release of cortisol due to a psychological stressor is this German study, which involved public speaking.
The German researchers subjected 120 people to a stressor that consisted of a “public speaking” task, combined with math problems. Half of those studied were given 1,000 mg of Vitamin C, three times a day; for a total of 3,000 mg per day.
Symptoms of stress, such as elevated cortisol levels and blood pressure, were significantly greater in those who didn’t take the vitamin. Plus, those who got the Vitamin C claimed that they actually felt less stressed, as a result of taking the vitamin.
As a result. the researchers concluded that Vitamin C should be an essential part of any stress management plan.
And in regards to strength-training, one study, entitled “Effects of Vitamin C on Cortisol and the Testosterone:Cortisol Ratio”, found a decrease in cortisol in 17 junior elite weight-lifters, simply by taking an extra gram (1,000 mg) of vitamin C a day. In fact, the vitamin C increased their testosterone:cortisol ratio by over 20%. And a higher testosterone:cortisol ratio is more anabolic than a lower ratio (which can be catabolic if it’s too low), and conducive to greater muscle growth.
So taking Vitamin C each day would probably be effective at preventing high cortisol levels due to intense weight-training, thereby improving your testosterone:cortisol ratio, for greater muscle gains.
One interesting and important thing to note about the first of those studies (study1) is this: 1,500 mg of Vitamin C taken daily lowered stress hormones more effectively than did 500 mg, taken daily.
So that finding may refute the belief that your body can absorb and assimilate only 500 mg of vitamin C a day, and that taking anything more than 500 mg a day is a waste. And the German public speaking study, which used 3,000 mg of vitamin C a day may refute those beliefs too.
The current RDA for vitamin C is still a paltry 60 milligrams per day, which is way below the 1,500-3,000 mg used in the above studies. But that RDA was decided upon many decades ago, based upon the minimum amount of vitamin C needed to prevent scurvy.
The ideal amount of vitamin C needed for optimum health and physical well being is something else. And it appears to be much higher than the current RDA, as determined by research done during the past few decades.
Interestingly, the above studies might disprove the popular theory that you can get all the nutrients you need from your diet alone. You’re almost certainly not going to get 1,500-3,000 milligrams of Vitamin C a day from your diet; no matter how many raw fruits and veggies you eat!
So here’s the vitamin C supplement that I take myself, and that I recommend for you:
This product contains vitamin C in the form of calcium ascorbate, which is the form recommended by Dr. Lester Packer, one of the world’s leading authorities on antioxidants.
It also contains citrus bioflavonoids, which are important compounds found in the pulp and peel of citrus fruits, that greatly enhance the effectiveness of vitamin C.
Since vitamin C is water soluble and is eliminated from the body relatively quickly, I recommend taking at least 500 mg with water between meals, every 6 hours or so. That means you’d be taking at least 1500 mg of vitamin C a day.
If you prefer to get your vitamin C from diet rather than a supplement, about the only way you’re going to get the amounts used in the above studies is by eating the camu berry, or the acerola cherry. The camu berry is probably the richest known food source of vitamin C, containing 30-60 times more vitamin C (per ounce) than an orange!
Getting mega-doses of vitamin C that way will be more expensive than getting it from supplements. But if you choose to go that route, here’s one camu berry product I recommend:
You would need about 2 and half teaspoons of that powder, to get 1,500 mg of vitamin C.
5) Get Enough High-Quality Sleep
You probably know that if you want to rejuvenate your body and mind, recharge your batteries, and reduce stress, nothing will do it like a good night’s sleep.
Plus, getting more high-quality sleep is one of the best ways to increase your testosterone levels. In fact, you can actually double your testosterone levels by sleeping for 8 hours, as opposed to 4 hours (study1, study2, study3, study4).
So for optimum levels of both cortisol and testosterone, you should get a minimum of 8 hours sleep a night. And ideally, it should be high-quality, deep sleep.
What’s the difference between getting 6 hours of sleep and the recommended 8 hours? According to Shawn Talbott, author of The Cortisol Connection, you’ll have 50% more cortisol in your bloodstream, as a result of getting the lower amount of sleep.
And a study at Germany’s Institute for Aerospace Medicine found that when pilots slept 6 hours or less for 7 nights while on duty, their cortisol levels increased significantly, and they remained elevated for 2 days.
And if you can’t the full 8 hours a night, take a nap sometime in the afternoon, to make up for it.
6) Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola rosea (a.k.a. golden root, rose root, Arctic root, Aaron’s rod, king’s crown) is an herb that grows in the harsh, cold environment of the Arctic, as well as other cold regions of the world (the mountains of Central Asia, eastern North America and Europe). It has a root that smells like roses; hence the common name “rose root”.
Rhodiola is one supplement that herbalists, naturopaths and medical doctors seem to agree upon, in regards to the health benefits that it conveys.
Plus, one study showed that Rhodiola may be potentially anabolic, in that it can mimic the effects of insulin, by increasing the uptake of glucose into muscle cells (study).
Rhodiola is considered a true adaptogen, which are herbs that get your body to “adapt” to stress effectively, by preventing the physical and chemical effects of stress.
It’s believed that adaptogens do this by getting your body to produce less cortisol, if your cortisol levels are too high, or by getting your body to produce more cortisol, if your cortisol levels are too low. So adaptogens are believed to help “normalize” your cortisol levels.
Here’s a rhodiola product that I recommend, and one that I use myself:
I recommend this product, because I’ve obtained good results from it, and the people to whom I’ve recommended it have gotten good results from it as well.
Plus, NOW is a good brand, and it’s standardized to contain 3% rosavins and a minimum of 1% salidrosides, as recommended by the Life Extension Foundation (LEF). The clinical trials on rhodiola used extracts standardized to 2-3% rosavins and 0.8-1% salidrosides.
Take rhodiola in the morning with water or juice, on an empty stomach, between meals. I recommend 500 mg a day, but you might want to start with a lower dose (250mg), and then work up to the higher dose.
Don’t take it in the evening, as it might disrupt your sleep, or give you insomnia. Unless you plan on going out to a nightclub!
Years ago, I read about the passing of an American poet, who had just died in Mexico, where he’d lived for years, at the age of 109.
The obituary article in the newspaper stated that he attributed his longevity and physical well-being to the fact that he’d always had a very “relaxed”, “leisurely” way of going about his daily activities in life. He simply went casually from one thing to the next, without ever getting “stressed out” about anything.
So was that his secret? I don’t know for sure. But my guess is that it was at least one of his secrets.
And that brings us to what is probably one of the best ways to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels: relaxation.
There are actually 2 types of relaxation exercises or strategies you can do:
a) those that induce a relaxation response via physical activity, such as stretching, getting a massage, and deep breathing
b) those that induce a relaxation response via mental activity, such as listening to relaxing music, and meditation
And both types of relaxation strategies (the physical and mental) have been shown to lower cortisol levels.
Plus, the 2 are not independent or mutually exclusive of each other. What starts out as physically relaxing can lead to mental relaxation. And what starts out as mentally relaxing can lead to physical relaxation.
In addition to the 5 relaxation strategies I listed above (which I explain in more depth elsewhere in this article), I could come up with a long list of specific activities and experiences that I find very relaxing.
But not all of those strategies may work as well for you as they do for me. And you know, or at least have the potential to know, what relaxes you better than anyone. So that’s for you to decide.
My advice is to “take time to smell the roses”, and find ways to relax throughout each day, rather than wait to relax just on the weekend, or on your days off from work.
And one simple, easy way you can do that is through “deep, diaphragmatic breathing”, which I cover elsewhere in this article. That’s something you can do almost anytime, anyplace.
8) Body Language
You probably know that “body language” can be a powerful form of nonverbal communication. In fact, you could write an entire book about that. And people have!
But did you know that body language can also affect your endocrine system, thereby altering your hormone levels? Did you know that you can increase your levels of free testosterone by 20%, and lower your levels of cortisol by 25%, simply by taking on certain postures, in as little as 2 minutes?
It’s true; and it’s been proven scientifically.
Here’s a Harvard study led by Amy Cuddy, showing that if you switch from “low power” body language to “high power” body language, your endocrine system will respond, and your hormone levels will change accordingly.
The study described “low power” body language as “closed” body language: arms crossed, hunched, closed-up, nervous, etc. Whereas “high power” body language was described as “open” body language: opened-up, relaxed, tall, confident, etc.
The study found that having their subjects spend as little as 2 minutes in a “high power” or “masculine” position, increased their testosterone levels by 20%, and lowered their cortisol levels by 25%!
And my guess is that the position of “squatting”, as when you perform the squat in the gym, would probably have a similar, or even greater effect.
In fact, I’ve often wondered if that’s why the squat has been shown to be the most effective weight-training exercise for stimulating your endocrine system, thereby getting your body to release more growth hormone and produce more testosterone.
Magnesium is the 4th most abundant mineral in your body (after calcium, phosphorus and potassium), and it’s required for the proper function of every organ and every part of your body; especially your heart, muscles, kidneys, and bones.
In fact, magnesium is required as a co-factor for over 300 different enzymes, and thus over 300 different chemical processes in your body. So as you can imagine, magnesium plays so many important roles in your body that I won’t list them all here.
Just to name a few: magnesium regulates immune response and cellular health, helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, and helps to metabolize fats, carbohydrates and proteins to produce energy.
It also activates creatine and ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy molecule of the cell. So it helps to increase energy in those ways too.
Magnesium also helps to prevent migraines, relieve pain, improve sleep, and maintain healthy blood pressure.
Here’s an interesting study found in the journal Atherosclerosis: it followed more than 4,200 people for 10 years. And it found that the rate of death form heart problems was “more than 50% higher” for people with low magnesium. And amazingly, the death rate from all causes was 10 times higher in people getting the least magnesium!
What’s relevant to this article is this: magnesium is also known to regulate the body’s stress response, thereby helping to keep the adrenal stress hormones (such as cortisol) under control. Which has earned magnesium nicknames like “the ultimate chill pill”, and “the great relaxer”.
Yet health experts generally agree that the majority of Americans are woefully deficient in magnesium. In fact, some estimates indicate that as much as 80% of Americans are deficient in this essential mineral. Some research even shows that only about 25 percent of adults get the recommended daily amounts; which is 400 to 420 mg for men, and 310 to 320 mg for women.
The foods with the highest amounts of magnesium are, from highest to lowest: pumpkin seeds, wheat bran, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, organic cocoa, cashews, walnuts, blackstrap molasses, black beans, soybeans, Swiss chard, quinoa and brown rice.
Hard water (water high in minerals) is also a good source of magnesium; which may be one reason for the longevity of people in parts of the country where they drink hard water.
So if you eat a lot of those foods and/or drink a lot of hard water, you might be getting enough magnesium for optimum health and physical and mental well-being. Otherwise, you probably need to take a supplement.
But, notice that I said you “might” get enough magnesium from eating those foods. It’s important to know that some of the foods listed above contain phytates, which are compounds that bind to magnesium, thus inhibiting its absorption by your body. So not all of the magnesium in those foods is bioavailable.
For example, un–hulled, brown sesame seeds are one of the richest food sources of magnesium. But your body can absorb only about 30% of the mineral from those seeds, due to the phytates. Hemp seeds, however, are a much better food source of magnesium, not only because they contain high amounts of the mineral (40% of the RDA in 3 tablespoons), but also because hemp seeds are one of the few, and possibly the only seeds that contain no phytates. So the magnesium in hemp seeds is much better absorbed than the magnesium from other seeds and nuts.
If you don’t eat a lot of hemp seeds, however…or even if you do, also be aware of the fact that caffeine (from coffee), alcohol, stress, exercise, sweating, prescription drugs, fluoride and calcium supplements all deplete your body of magnesium. Thus, a strong case could be made that “nearly every American should supplement with magnesium”.
Magnesium supplements come in many different forms, and not all of them are equally effective, in regards to absorption and assimilation.
Magnesium glycinate (magnesium attached to a glycine molecule) and magnesium bisglycinate (magnesium attached to 2 glycine molecules, for even better absorption) are believed to be the best-absorbed forms of magnesium to take.
Other well-absorbed forms of magnesium are magnesium malate and magnesium threonate.
Magnesium oxide, although common, is the worst form of magnesium to take, as it’s the least well-absorbed.
Here’s the magnesium that I take, and the one that I recommend:
That product is a powder, that you dissolve in water or some other beverage. And although it’s the most economical and cost-effective way to take magnesium, the taste isn’t good.
So if you can’t deal with that, here are two other magnesium products that I recommend, that you take as tablets or capsules:
The advantage of the Innovex Labs product over the Viva Labs product is that it comes in capsules, which dissolve more easily than do tablets. Plus it’s free of stearates and other fillers. And although it isn’t 100% magnesium bisglycinate, the malate form of magnesium is very well absorbed also.
How much magnesium should you take? Carolyn Dean M.D., N.D., author of the highly acclaimed book The Magnesium Miracle, recommends 600-1,000 mg a day.
Interestingly, the Turkish study that I cited above (study1, and study2) used 1,000 mg of magnesium a day, to boost testosterone levels.
To obtain a copy of Dr. Dean’s eye-opening book (which I highly recommend), click on The Magnesium Miracle.
Also, to absorb magnesium well, you need vitamin B6, ideally in it’s “active” form, which is pyridoxal-5′-phosphate. For that, I recommend this sublingual vitamin B complex product, which I take myself:
Is Magnesium Oil Even Better Than Oral Magnesium Supplements?
Finally, some people prefer to use magnesium oil, applied topically to the skin, to get their daily dose of magnesium. They claim that if you’re really deficient in magnesium, the only way to quickly bring your levels up to optimum is by applying magnesium oil topically, on a daily basis.
I haven’t tried magnesium oil yet. But if you choose to go that route, here’s the magnesium oil that’s recommended by Dr. Mark Sircus, author of the book Transdermal Magnesium Therapy: a New Modality for the Maintenance of Health :
If you ‘d like a less expensive product, try:
NOTE: As important and safe as magnesium is, people with kidney diseases or disorders should not take magnesium supplements. If you have kidney disease or disorders, I recommend getting your magnesium from your diet.
Ashwagandha (a.k.a. Indian winter cherry, Indian ginseng) is a popular herb that’s cultivated in India and North America. Ashwagandha has been used in traditional Indian medicine for thousands of years.
The word “ashwagandha” literally means “smell of horse”, referring to the “horsey smell” of the fresh root, and the belief that when ingested, it can give you the strength and virility of a horse.
And now, recent scientific research has shown that ashwagandha does indeed have anti-stress, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, mind-boosting, antioxidant, immune-strengthening, and rejuvenating properties.
Historically, ashwagandha has also been know as an aphrodisiac, with sex-enhancing properties.
Studies provide notable evidence that ashwagandha optimizes your cortisol levels. Like other herbs classified as “adaptogens”, it it’s believed to do so by lowering your cortisol levels, if cortisol is too high, and by raising your cortisol levels, if cortisol is too low (study1, study2, study3, study4).
In fact, many people obtain a relaxing effect within hours of taking ashwagandha.
Here’s the ashwagandha product that I use, and the one that I recommend:
I recommend that product, because it’s “standardized” to contain a higher percentage of the active ingredients than you would get by taking the regular root powder.
So you can take less of it than you would if you were to take the unstandardized products, and still get the same, or better effect.
Plus, Life Extension is a good brand, and I trust the Life Extension Foundation.
According to noted medical doctor and herbalist Dr. Ray Sahelian, ashwagandha works best when taken on an empty stomach. In fact, he claims that most herbal supplements work better when taken on an empty stomach.
But then others say that ashwagandha should be taken with meals; although they don’t say why. So the jury is still out on that one.
NOTE: Although ashwagandha is a very safe herb to ingest, it should not be used by pregnant women, as it can induce an abortion. So says this article on the site of the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
11) Omega 3 Fatty Acids (from Fish Oil, Krill Oil) Lower Cortisol, Burn Fat and Build Muscle!
The health benefits of the long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are well known. Almost every aspect of our health is dependent upon the types of fatty acids that are found in our cells. So not surprisingly, EPA and DHA have been used to prevent heart disease, cancer, maintain and improve eyesight, maintain and improve brain function and mental health, fight inflammation, maintain and improve sexual health, improve insulin sensitivity (when combined with exercise), slow the shortening of your telomeres (which determine your true biological age), and so on.
Plus, numerous studies indicate that EPA and DHA may even have an anabolic (muscle-building) effect. In fact, taking fish oil supplements or eating a lot of cold-water, fatty fish actually has a body recompositioning effect: muscle mass goes up, while excess body fat goes down (study1, study2, study3, study4, study5, study6, study7, study8, study9, study10).
One study gave healthy young and middle-aged (25-45 year old) men and women 4 g of fish oil per day-providing a daily dose of 1.86 g of EPA and 1.5 g of DHA-for 8 weeks. Doing so significantly increased the anabolic response of muscle protein synthesis to amino acids and insulin, by 30%! Similar results were found with the elderly, age 65+.
Those results aren’t surprising, considering the fact that many studies show that fish oil increases insulin sensitivity, when combined with exercise. And when you increase insulin sensitivity, chances are you’ll improve protein synthesis in the muscle also. And that’s because insulin regulates the passage of amino acids, nutrients, hormones and other important chemicals into the muscle.
So if you’re “insulin sensitive”, which is the opposite of ‘insulin resistant”, the insulin does a better job of getting those amino acids, nutrients and hormones into the muscle, where they’re needed for muscle growth.
Plus, fish oil enhances both the mTOR pathway that produces muscle growth, and muscle cell membrane strength.
EPA and DHA are found mainly in fatty, cold-water fish, fish oil and krill oil. So one way to get more of those fatty acids is to eat more of the types of fish that are rich in EPA and DHA; such as wild salmon (not farmed), mackerel, black cod, sardines and herring.
Ideally, you would need to eat some of those fish at least 2-3 times a week. If you don’t, your other options are to take a good, high-quality fish oil supplement, or take krill oil.
Choosing the Right Fish Oil
For years, finding a really good fish oil product was quite a challenge. And that’s because for years, most fish oils have been molecularly distilled to remove toxins and impurities, like mercury. That process is great for purifying the fish oil. But it involves heating the oil to extremely high temperatures, which damages the fatty acids.
Fortunately, there’s a relatively new purification technology called dual process CO2 extraction, that removes the toxins from the fish oil, without heating the oil to high temperatures. And the 2 products that I recommend below both use that method of purification:
The main difference between the 2 products (aside from the price) is that the OmegaVia product is the ethyl ester form of fish oil, whereas the Uno Cardio product is the triglyceride form, which is how fish oil naturally occurs.
Some people prefer the triglyceride form of fish oil, based upon a study showing that it’s better absorbed than the ethyl ester form, at least in the short term. But it also found no difference between the 2 in regards to absorption, after long-term usage.
But this German study did find that the triglyceride form of fish oil is slightly better than the ethyl ester form in regards to absorption, both short-term and long-term.
The Una Cardio product, which is a triglyceride form of fish oil, is more expensive than the OmegaVia product, however. Also, the OmegaVia product is 5 star rated by the IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards Program), whereas the Una Cardio product is not IFOS-rated.
How Much Fish Oil Should You Take?
The amount of fish oil you take daily would depend upon what you’re taking it for. If you’re taking fish oil just to supply you with the minimum daily requirement of the long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), you can take just 1 gram (1,000 mg) a day.
But if you’re taking fish oil to lower cortisol levels, I recommend at least 2 grams (2,000 mg) per day. And if you’re taking fish oil to build muscle, lose fat, or for body re-composition, or to lower triglycerides, you’ll probably need 3-4 grams (3,000-4,000 mg) of fish oil a day. Ideally, fish oil should be taken with meals.
Is Krill Oil Even Better then Fish Oil?
Krill are tiny, shrimp-like crustaceans that are eaten by blue whales. They’re found in the pristine waters of the Antarctica. That, plus the fact that they’re so low on the food chain, leads one to think that the oil from krill (which contains EPA and DHA) may be lower in pollutants and toxins (mercury, etc.) than unpurified fish oil is.
Plus, some of the EPA and DHA found in krill oil is attached to a phospholipid molecule, whereas all of the EPA and DHA found in fish oil is attached to a triglyceride molecule. And since the phospholipid forms of those fatty acids are how they normally occur in your body, that might explain why the EPA and DHA from krill oil is easier to absorb and assimilate than they are from fish oil. And there are some studies indicating that the Omega-3s from krill oil are absorbed better than those from fish oil.
Furthermore, krill oil contains astaxanthin, which fish oil doesn’t have. Astaxanthin is a carotenoid and a powerful antioxidant and popular supplement, that’s believed to help keep the krill oil stable, and prevent it from becoming rancid and oxidized. But then many fish oils now have vitamin E added, to stabilize the oil and prevent oxidation.
The main problem with krill oil is that it’s not as high in EPA or DHA as is fish oil, so you might have to take more of it to get the same effect, in spite of the greater bioavailability of the Omega-3s from krill. And since krill oil is generally more expensive than fish oil to begin, that would lead to even greater expense.
If you opt for krill oil over fish oil, here are 2 of the leading brands of krill oil that I recommend:
The NutriGold product is 5-star rated by the IKOS (International Krill Oil Standard Program), but the Now brand is not IKOS rated.
How Much Krill Oil Should You Take?
As with fish oil, the amount of krill oil that you take per day depends on what you’re taking it for. If you’re taking krill oil just to obtain the minimum daily amounts needed of the fatty acids EPA and DHA, take just one capsule per day, of either of the above 2 products.
But if you’re taking it to build muscle, or for body re-composition, or to lower triglycerides, you’ll have to take more. How much more? It’s hard to say, in the case of krill oil. And that’s because although some of the Omega-3s from krill oil are more easily absorbed than those in fish oil, krill oil is also lower in those Omega-3s than krill oil is.
Remember, the muscle-building study I cited above used 1.86 g of EPA and 1.5 g of DHA a day, obtained from 4 g of fish oil a day. So to determine how much krill oil would provide those amounts, you’d have to check the amounts of EPA and DHA in each capsule of krill that you’re using.
Then calculate accordingly, bearing in mind that some of the Omega-3s found in krill oil are more easily absorbed than those in fish oil. So you might not need quite as much as in the case of fish oil.
NOTE: The Omega-3 fatty acids can thin your blood. So if you’re taking any blood-thinning medications, consult your doctor or health-care provider before you take fish oil or krill oil. You don’t want your blood to get too thin.
Personally, I would try to ditch the drugs, and opt for all the blood-thinning and health benefits of fish oil and krill oil instead. After all, the Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for good health, whereas the drugs are not. But you’d have to discuss that with your physician, or healthcare provider.
12) Meditation Lowers Cortisol
There are many different ways to meditate, and you would need to find out which methods you like best, and seem to work best for you.
One approach to meditation that I like is that described in the book The HeartMath Solution (Doc Childre). The strategies in that book have actually been shown to lower cortisol levels and increase DHEA levels simultaneously. It was also found that listening to music (the “right” kind of music) while doing those meditative strategies more than doubled the effect.
And I like to add “deep, abdominal breathing” to the mix, to make those meditative strategies even more powerful.
Whatever method of meditation you choose to do, I believe that you can customize your approach, based upon what works best for you. You know what relaxes you better than anyone any else does.
13) Oleuropein (from Olive Leaf)
Oleuropein is a phytochemical found in olives, olive oil, and especially in olive leaves. It’s a powerful antioxidant, and a potent anti-cancer compound as well, as indicated by this study, where it caused complete regression of cancerous tumors in mice, in 9-12 days!
In fact, some experts attribute the low rates of cancer amongst those who follow the “Mediterranean diet” to the abundance of olive oil (and thus oleuropein) in the diet.
Most people take olive leaf extract (the richest source of oleuropein) to eliminate and prevent colds, flu, parasites, viruses and other infectious disorders. And since olive leaf extract is a “natural antibiotic”, many people swear by it for those purposes.
What most people don’t know yet though, is that oleuropein has been shown to significantly lower cortisol levels, boost testosterone levels (by 250%), and stimulate muscle growth, as indicated by this Japanese study.
Now admittedly, that study was done with rats. But I know of anecdotal evidence from people, including bodybuilders, who have used olive leaf extract, and they’ve experienced evidence that it may boost testosterone levels in humans also. Plus, they used olive leaf extracts that weren’t even as high in oleuropein as the one used in the Japanese rat study.
If you calculate the amounts of oleuropein used in that study for humans, you would have to take about 2.6 grams of olive leaf extract, standardized to 25% oleuropein, daily. If it’s standardized to less than 25%, you might have to take more. That’s doable.
Here’s the olive leaf extract that I recommend:
I recommend that product, because it’s one of the very few that’s standardized to 25% oleuropein, it gets great reviews, and it’s one of the most cost-efficient in the long term.
To get the dose of oleuropein used in the study cited above, you would need to take 10 capsules of that product a day.
If that’s more than you want to spend, here’s another olive leaf extract that I recommend, one that’s much less expensive in the short term:
To get the dose of oleuropein used in the Japanese study, you’d have to take 13 capsules of that product a day.
14) Listen to the Music!
You’ve probably heard the saying, “What’s good for the soul is good for the body; and what’s good for the body is good for the soul”.
And that brings us to one of the most enjoyable ways there is to reduce your cortisol levels: music!
Everyone has experienced the power that music can have, on how it can make you feel emotionally. The fact is, humans are genetically programmed to be stimulated by music.
So it’s no surprise to read in Napoleon Hill’s widely-acclaimed book on success, Think and Grow Rich, that music is right up there with sex and love, as one of the “top 3 positive stimuli” that the human brain most readily and most strongly responds to.
Thus, it should also come as no surprise to learn that listening to music can directly affect your biochemistry and even alter your hormone levels, including those of cortisol and DHEA. Plus, listening to music has also been found to increase your immunoglobulin A and killer cell count, thereby strengthening your immune system.
And at least one study found that listening to music can not only lower your cortisol levels, but it can also raise your levels of DHEA, which is an anti-aging, pro-youth hormone. That study can be found in the book The HeartMath Solution, by Doc Childre, which describes strategies that consist of meditation combined with music, to lower cortisol levels while raising DHEA levels simultaneously.
It’s important to note that all of the studies I listed above used music that was relaxing (but not boring), to induce a cortisol-lowering and DHEA-enhancing response. I believe that certain types of music might not have that cortisol-lowering effect, and might actually raise your cortisol levels.
For example, some music out there is just meant to be a manifestation of “teenage angst”; which might be okay for an angry teenager. But that’s not the kind of music you want, for the purpose of lowering cortisol or raising DHEA levels. And even angry teenagers need to relax, and lower their cortisol levels!
Ideally, you want music that relaxes you and stimulates you at the same time. And although I can come up with a long list of music that can serve that purpose, you’re the best judge as to what music works best for you in that regard.
15) Get a Massage
It’s been said that “a good massage can make you feel like a new person”, and that “massage is real medicine”. And now, at least 2 studies substantiate those claims.
And as a bonus, the first of those studies showed that massage significantly increases levels of serotonin and dopamine; two “feel good” neurotransmitters. Serotonin provides you with a feeling of relaxation, while dopamine gives you a feeling of euphoria and a “natural high”.
A massage from a professional massage therapist can be expensive. So another option is for you and your “significant other” to give each other the rubdown!
16) Chew gum
Have you ever noticed that chewing gum makes you feel better and more relaxed? Well not surprisingly, at least one study has shown that chewing gum lowers cortisol levels (study).
Listed below is my favorite gum, one that’s devoid of sucrose, but contains xylitol as a sweetener instead. Xylitol is a natural sugar that actually inhibits tooth decay, and helps prevent the formation of plaque and tartar.
Whenever I offer this gum to people, they always want more, the next time they see me:
17) Just breathe!
Here’s a stress-busting, cortisol-lowering strategy you can use anytime, anyplace, whatever you do, wherever you go. And it’s been right under our noses for thousands of years: just breathe!
But I don’t mean the “shallow” breathing that most people habitually do. I mean “deep, abdominal, diaphragmatic breathing”; like the kind they do in yoga. That’s the type of breathing that’s been shown to relax you and lower cortisol levels, as well as raise melatonin levels (study).
Ironically, when we get stressed out the most is when we’re least likely to breathe deeply. But that’s when we need it the most!
It should also be very helpful to do deep-breathing when you’re working out. Doing so should prevent your cortisol levels from rising too high from strength-training or weight-lifting.
And that would increase your post-workout testosterone/cortisol ratio, thereby creating a state that’s more conducive to greater muscle growth!
I always do as much deep breathing as I can when I’m working out; or just in general, even when I’m not working out. And I find that taking a deep breath immediately before any exercise always helps me to perform the exercise better!
18) Take whey protein before your workout
Whey protein is one of the most popular and highly-touted foods amongst bodybuilders, or anyone who wants to build muscle. And that’s because it’s commonly believed to be the most high-quality source of protein, for the purpose of building muscle. Plus, it’s quickly and easily digested, providing your muscles with a flood of beneficial, anabolic amino acids, post workout.
Now here’s a study showing that whey protein, taken before your workout, can aid muscle growth by lowering cortisol levels.
Here’s the whey protein that I recommend, and one that I use myself:
I recommend that product, because it’s whey protein concentrate, which has beneficial compounds not found in whey protein isolate; which is also more expensive.
Plus, Jarrow is a good, reputable company, and that product gives you the best bang for your buck, as far as non-organic, whey protein concentrates go. However, it’s not organic.
So if you want to go organic and,of course, pay more, here’s an organic whey protein, one that comes from grass-fed cows, that I recommend:
And here’s another organic whey protein product that I recommend that’s less expensive, and probably the cheapest organic whey protein out there; but doesn’t come from grass-fed cows:
19) Go Easy on the Alcohol
The consumption of alcohol, a psychoactive drug that has many effects on your body, especially on your endocrine system, is controversial.
In recent years, we’ve heard many reports that drinking alcohol in moderation can lower your risk of developing heart disease, by raising HDL cholesterol levels. More doctors are even recommending having one or two drinks a day to increase longevity.
One study even found that a small amount of alcohol can actually raise testosterone levels.
However, just as with caffeine consumption, that boost in testosterone may be offset by the fact that alcohol, at least in excess amounts, also raises cortisol levels (study).
So drinking too much alcohol is definitely not conducive to building muscle, and will probably interfere with muscle growth, and even cause your muscles to shrink!
So what about moderate drinking? How does that affect cortisol levels?
I haven’t found any studies yet to show what effect moderate alcohol consumption has on cortisol levels. And that would also depend upon what is considered “moderate alcohol consumption”.
In any case, we know that excess alcohol consumption:
- raises cortisol levels
- lowers testosterone levels
- inhibits muscle growth and causes muscular atrophy
Furthermore, human studies have shown that just 8-10 oz. of an alcoholic beverage consumed before bed significantly suppresses the release of human growth hormone (HGH) that normally occurs, within the first 2 hours of sleep (study1). And the alcohol can suppress the release of HGH by as much as 75%!
And that’s important to remember, since growth hormone is a pro-youth, anti-aging, anabolic hormone, that’s needed for maximum muscle growth.
So with all that in mind, you’d have to decide for yourself how much alcohol you choose to drink, and when you drink it; if any at all.
I’ll always remember the feeling I had immediately following my first yoga classes in college. We would leave the room revitalized, refreshed, relaxed, yet energetic, and ready to take on the world!
Was it the stretching, or was it the deep, diaphragmatic breathing that made us feel that way? Probably both.
Not surprisingly, I’ve found one study showing that stretching can lower cortisol levels.
And that might lend some credence to the claim that stretching may be “the fountain of youth”; or at least an important part of a “fountain of youth lifestyle”.
Plus, if stretching really can lower cortisol levels, that’s one more reason to do stretching exercises immediately following your gym workouts, so as to lower the level of cortisol that normally rises, when you do strength-training or weight-training.
Furthermore, one study (found in Ironman Magazine years ago) showed that stretching your muscles after your workout (but not before or during your workout) actually enabled those muscles to perform better, during your next workout session.
I don’t recommend stretching just before you workout though, because that get’s your muscles to relax. And the exact opposite of what you want when you’re strength-training or weight-training.
The easiest and most convenient way to incorporate stretching into your lifestyle is by doing Active Isolated Stretching (AIS), found in The Wharton’s Stretch Book, which I highly recommend.
21) Curcumin (from Turmeric) is Anabolic!
Curcumin is a phytochemical found in turmeric, that gives turmeric it’s bright yellow color. Like fish oil, it confers so many health benefits that they’re too numerous to mention here.
Curcumin makes this list, not because it lowers cortisol levels, but because studies have shown that it actually inhibits the breakdown of muscle tissue into glucose, which is caused by cortisol.
Here’s the curcumin supplement that I recommend, and the one that I take:
I recommend that product, because it’s probably the best absorbed, and Life Extension has some of the best, most cutting-edge, most reliable supplements.
Curcumin is difficult to absorb, once ingested. Life Extension seems to have solved that problem, in part by heating the turmeric (as you would making a turmeric tea), which somehow breaks down the curcuminoids, thus making them more bioavailable. Just as cooking tomatoes (as when you make tomato sauce or paste) makes the lycopene (a carotenoid and powerful antioxidant) in the tomatoes more bioavailable.
Plus, the curcumin in that product is already dissolved in phospholipids, which is important, since curcumin is fat soluble. So if you take curcumin or turmeric on an empty stomach, or without enough fat, it won’t do you much good.
And to increase the absorption of curcumin even further, I recommend taking it with black pepper extract, which can increase the absorption of curcumin by 2000% (study).
For that, I recommend this inexpensive black pepper extract:
22) Accept the “Good Stress” in Your Life; Eliminate, Avoid and Forget About the Bad
You’ve probably heard that there’s “good stress”, and there’s “bad stress”, right?
Good stress, sometimes referred to as eustress, is the type of stress that serves a beneficial purpose in your life. The “pleasure” that you obtain from the experience outweighs the “pain” of the stress; if not in the short-term, at least in the long-term.
Good stress is an inevitable part of “getting what you want” in life. Without this type of stress, you wouldn’t accomplish much, if anything at all.
For example, if you’re working towards a college degree, you’ll almost certainly experience some stress along the way, in your effort to get assignments done by a certain deadline, take tests, give public presentations in class, etc. But that stress serves a good purpose: it’s required, so that you can get your degree.
Bad stress, by contrast, serves no beneficial purpose in your life. This type of stress, sometimes called distress, causes too much pain, and very little if any pleasure to compensate for it. This is the type of stress you want to avoid and eliminate from your life.
And although a certain amount of “bad stress” is inevitable in life, most of us have more bad stress than we have to have. Just take a look at all of the sources of “bad, useless stress” you might have in your life, and ask yourself how you can weed them out of your life.
And when you are confronted with a “potentially negative stressor” that can’t be avoided, remember: when it comes to psychological stressors, it’s not the stressor per se that causes the surge in cortisol levels. Ultimately, it’s how you react or respond emotionally to the stressor, that causes the rise in cortisol.
So if you adopt the right mindset, you can change your typical reaction to any given stressor, so that it doesn’t affect you negatively emotionally. And that way, you can suppress or even prevent any rise in cortisol from occurring.
Easier said than done, of course. But it’s doable, with persistence, patience and practice.
That said, it’s important to remember that even the “good stress” causes an undesirable rise in cortisol levels.
For example, if you’re a performing solo musician or entertainer, you’ll inevitably experience some stress (good stress), and a rise in cortisol when you give a live performance; and also as you prepare for that live performance. So how can you combat that rise in cortisol effectively?
One way is to use the power of your mind to prevent you from reacting negatively to that “good stress”, thereby blunting any rise in cortisol. There are many ways to do that, and I can write an article, or even a book about it. That’s something I won’t attempt to do here, though.
The other way is to simply take supplements such as vitamin C, and the adaptogenic herb Rhodiola rosea, both of which have been shown to lower cortisol levels in humans, when they’re under stress.
I’ve written a separate section for each of those supplements in this article.
23) Drink Enough Water
Studies have shown that dehydration, even by just a half a liter of water a day, can raise cortisol levels (study1, study2). The latter of the 2 studies found dehydration lowered the testosterone/cortisol ratio following high-intensity exercise, thereby putting the subjects in a catabolic state, which is conducive to muscle loss.
One study also found that drinking water while working out can help to lower your cortisol levels (study). And lowering your cortisol levels naturally when working out is conducive to greater muscle growth, as it can increase the testosterone/cortisol ratio, thus putting you in a more anabolic state.
How do you know if you’re dehydrated? Well, if you can’t go by the “feel” of it (as in “your body’s many cries for water”!), or by counting how many cups of water you drink per day, consider this: if your urine is dark or bright yellow, you’re probably dehydrated. In a well-hydrated person, urine should be very pale yellow, like lemonade.
24) The Power of Focus
“Your mind can be your best friend, or your biggest enemy; depending upon how you use it!”
Here’s one of life’s most important lessons, yet one that most people never learn or apply: what you focus on determines how you feel!
So if you’re feeling happy, if you’re feeling sad and depressed, if your feeling angry, if you’re feeling afraid, chances are it’s because you’re focusing on things that make you feel that way.
What that means is that you can change the way you feel in an instant, simply by changing your focus!
Ok; so what does that have to with your cortisol levels?
The answer is that “how you feel” emotionally can have a powerful effect on your hormone levels, including cortisol.
Imagine, for example, you’re a pedestrian crossing a street, and you suddenly see a car coming at you, full speed ahead! What will you feel?
Fear, of course! And that emotional feeling is sure to trigger a release of cortisol and adrenaline throughout your body.
The “car coming at you” would be an example of an external stressor. Internal stressors, however, are usually caused by “what you choose to focus on” proactively; not in reaction to some external stressor.
And internal stressors can cause the same release of cortisol that external stressors do.
Now I know it’s not always easy to change your focus instantly, to change how you feel. In fact, sometimes it can be tremendously difficult. But I can assure you that the more you practice this strategy, the easier it gets.
I also know that some people prefer to just fall prey to the negative, disempowering thoughts that come wandering haphazardly into their minds. The truth is that such people are just being too lazy to harness the “power of focus”, by taking control of their thoughts, to determine how they feel, and thus their hormone levels.
And if you don’t believe that “what you focus on” can have such a powerful effect on how you feel and your hormone levels, take a look at some of the other cortisol-lowering, testosterone-boosting strategies I’ve listed in this article. You’ve got:
- listening to music
- watching porn
What gives those strategies the power they have over your hormone levels, as indicated by the studies I’ve cited?
In all of those examples, isn’t it because of what you’re focusing on, that causes you to feel a certain way? And that, in turn, affects your hormone levels? Of course!
25) Watch Porn!
Now here’s a cortisol-lowering strategy that mommy and daddy never told you about. And it may not be for “die-hard” moralists. But if you’re a “die-hard” hedonist, read on.
Scottish endocrinologists found that when men watched porn clips, it caused their testosterone levels to rise, and their cortisol levels to drop.
So could it be that watching porn before working out can result in more muscular gains, due to a better testosterone/cortisol ratio?
You can click on the anabolic power of dirty films, to read more about the study.
Plus, a study done in Vienna showed that when 10 men viewed a 15 minutes porn video, their testosterone levels increased by 100%! The study didn’t say anything about their cortisol levels. But since testosterone and cortisol have an “inverse relationship” (when one goes up, the other tends to go down), and based upon the results of the previously mentioned study, you can be almost certain that the men’s cortisol levels dropped down significantly.
So what if you don’t have any porn to watch? Well, you can probably achieve the same testosterone-boosting, cortisol-lowering effects just by creating and entertaining sexual thoughts and fantasies in your mind.
And I would think that the more vivid and detailed those sexual thoughts and fantasies are, the more powerful the effect on your testosterone and cortisol levels.
Bottom line: get sexually stimulated as much as possible, in one way or another, to raise testosterone levels and lower cortisol levels.
See, I told you some of these cortisol-lowering strategies can be fun!
26) L-theanine (from Green Tea)
L-theanine is an amino acid found in the leaves of green tea. It’s become a popular supplement in it’s own right, largely due to the “calming” effect that it can have. Many people take it to promote better and deeper sleep.
And as a bonus, l-theanine also causes relaxation by boosting levels of GABA (an inhibitory neurotransmitter), which in turn can raise levels of growth hormone (an anabolic, anti-aging hormone).
So for a boost in growth hormone and better sleep, take 50-200 mg of l-theanine on an empty stomach, about 30-60 minutes before bed.
Here’s one l-theanine product that I recommend:
I recommend that particular product, because Jarrow is a good, reliable brand, and it uses the Suntheanine brand of L-theanine, which is generally considered the “gold standard”.
Zinc is an essential nutritional mineral, that plays important catalytic, structural and regulatory roles in your body.
Many aspects of cellular metabolism depend upon zinc. In fact, over 300 different enzymes rely on zinc, to catalyze vital chemical reactions.
Thus, zinc is essential for proper growth and development, the strength of your immune system, neurological function and reproduction.
Zinc is also very important for the proper functioning of your immune system. Thus, it’s no surprise to learn that zinc has been shown to lower cortisol levels (study).
And since zinc is important for testosterone production, neither should it be any surprise to find that zinc can also raise testosterone levels, if you’re deficient or low in the mineral (study1, study2, study3, study4, study5, study6)
The best food source of zinc is oysters, by far. In fact, oysters are so high in zinc, one would think that you could overdose on zinc, just by eating a cup of oysters a day!
Other good sources of zinc (from highest to lowest) are beef, lamb, crab, lobster, chicken liver, mussels, clams, pork, egg yolks, and dark chicken meat.
Although a number of plant foods (such as pumpkin seeds and wheat germ) contain a lot of zinc, the mineral isn’t well absorbed from those foods, due to the presence of phytates, which bind to the zinc, thereby inhibiting its absorption.
So if you’re a vegetarian, you should take a zinc supplement. Furthermore, if you’re an athlete, or if you sweat a lot, you should also take a zinc supplement, since zinc is lost through sweat, just as magnesium is.
And if you drink a lot of alcohol, you need to take a zinc supplement, since alcohol depletes your body of zinc. Plus, a number of prescription drugs deplete your body of zinc.
In fact, since zinc has to be replenished daily, as it’s not stored in the body, I believe that most people need to take a zinc supplement. Unless you eat a lot of those foods I listed above each day (especially oysters and beef).
Here’s the zinc supplement that I recommend, and the one that I take myself:
I recommend that particular product, because it contains zinc monomethionine, which is believed to be one of the most effectively absorbed forms of zinc.
It also contains copper, which is ideal, because taking zinc increases your need for copper.
Plus, NOW is generally a good brand, and it’s reasonably priced.
Take no more than 40 mg of zinc per day, as that’s the adult upper limit. Too much zinc can inhibit your body’s absorption of copper.
28) Sip Tea
Tea is often believed to induce a state of relaxation, but there haven’t been many studies done to verify this belief. Now here’s one study that shows drinking tea can actually lower cortisol levels.
The cortisol-lowering effects of the tea (which in this study was black tea) might have been due to l-theanine, an amino acid found in both green and black tea. L-theanine has been shown to lower cortisol levels as well, when taken as a supplement, as I mentioned previously.
But since tea contains only about 2% l-theanine, you would have to drink a lot of tea to get the 200mg of l-theanine that’s believed to be needed a day, in order to lower cortisol levels.
So maybe something else in the tea was responsible for the cortisol- lowering effects observed in the study I cited above.
In any case, if sipping tea isn’t your thing, you might be able to get the same (or even better) cortisol-lowering effect by taking l-theanine supplements.
29) Get a Kiss!
Kissing, like a lot of other things that make you feel good, appears to ease stress, and thus lower cortisol levels. At least according to this study done by Wendy Hill, professor of neuroscience at Lafayette College.
In the experiment, pairs of college students kissed for 15 minutes, while listening to music. As a result, they experienced significant changes in their levels of cortisol. Their saliva levels of cortisol were compared before and after the kiss.
Both males and females experienced a drop in cortisol after kissing, indicating a decline in stress levels.
The problem with this study is this: was the drop in cortisol due to the kissing, or was it due to the music? It could’ve been a combination of both.
Hill did another study in which couples just held hands. The drop in cortisol still occurred after holding hands; but it wasn’t as great as after kissing. I don’t know if music was involved in that study.
In any case again, I told you some of these cortisol-lowering strategies can be fun!
Here’s another fun way to lower your cortisol levels:
One study that I read about in Science Daily found that when men talked for just 5 minutes to women they found attractive, their testosterone levels went up by 30%, and their cortisol levels went down.
It was also found that when the men talked with other men, their testosterone levels also went up (but only by 18%) and their cortisol levels went down.
I don’t have a link to that study yet, but we all know that humans are social creatures by nature. And there’s one more reason for making socializing a priority in your life.
And does socializing over the Internet count? I’m sure it can help. But I doubt that it would have the same impact as socializing in person would.
I’ve provided you with a lot of ways to keep your cortisol levels under control; probably more than any other article has ever ventured to do. But then nobody ever said that “the fountain of youth” would be an easy take!
And although there is no “fountain of youth pill“, there is a “fountain of youth lifestyle“. And I believe that controlling your stress responses and cortisol levels is an essential part of that lifestyle.
Of course, you can’t incorporate all of the strategies I’ve listed in this article into your lifestyle all at once. First decide which ones you want to adopt. And then fit them into your lifestyle gradually, until they become rules that you live by.
Some are as easy as popping a vitamin C pill, 3 times a day. But others, such as “deep breathing”, involve adopting new habits. And developing new habits requires persistence and patience. You don’t develop a new habit overnight.
In fact, it’s been said that it takes at least 3-6 weeks to develop a new habit; if you work at it every day. Personally, I believe it depends upon the individual, and what specific habit you’re trying to develop.
Whatever the case may be, that leads me to close with one of my favorite quotes:
“The beginning of a habit is like an invisible thread. But each time you repeat the action, you add one more strand to the thread. Until it becomes a great cable that binds you irrevocably, in thought, word and deed!”
I like that quote, because it explains how “bad, disempowering habits” creep into our lives, without our being aware of it. It’s because they’re invisible, at first.
That quote also gives us hope, determination and motivation, when it comes to integrating “good, empowering habits” into our lives. Because remember, they too will be “invisible” in the beginning. It’s only once they’ve become a habit, that you’ll notice a difference, and the positive effects they’ll have on your life.
So remember: first you make your habits; and then your habits make you! Just make sure they’re the right habits, that will get you what you truly want in life!
Comments? Questions? Would you like to agree or disagree? Feel free to do so!