Calming Cortisol During Times of Occasional Stress

By Mark Swanson, ND

Cortisol is the major “stress response” corticosteroid hormone produced by the adrenals. It is the main end product of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Cortisol affects metabolic, cardiovascular and central nervous systems under both acute and chronic states.

The functional neuroanatomy and regulation of cortisol is complex involving environmental, psychological and genetic factors.1 The first line defenses for maintaining healthy cortisol levels include relaxation techniques, exercise, sleep improvements and dietary changes, including natural herbs and supplements. The “adaptosyn effect” combines these approaches with adaptogens and related synergists for additional support. Combinations can include some or all of the following:

Ashwagandha is one of the most widely utilized adaptogen herbs in the Ayurvedic system. In a recent double blind placebo-controlled clinical trial, a unique patented standardized extract of ashwagandha supported overall measures of relaxation, restful sleep and serum cortisol levels.2

Rhodiola rosea extract has been shown to have significant adaptogenic and anxiolytic activities.3 It may help maintain healthy adrenal catecholamine activity during occasional stress and provide cardioprotection by moderating stress-induced catecholamine release in the myocardium.4

Magnolia officinalis is widely used in both traditional Chinese therapies and Japanese Kampo medicine. It contains honokiol and magnolol as the main active constituents. Research indicates that these components help support relaxation and positive mood, in part by promoting healthy HPA activity and serotonin and serum corticosterone concentrations.5

L-Theanine, an amino acid constituent of green tea, modulates alpha wave frequency, resulting in relaxation and the ability to reduce occasional stress while promoting healthy mental function. Subjects performing complex mental tasks and given l-theanine showed reduced heart rate and bio-physiological responses indicating support for occasional stress.6

Growing evidence suggests that Vitamin D3 regulates the activity of 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 enzyme (11β-HSD 1), a key enzyme involved in targeted areas of cortisol production.7,8

The “adaptosyn effect” offers enhanced support to optimize cortisol-stress management outcomes via a sustained calming of cortisol activity. Compared to a single adaptogenic response, combinations of herbal extracts and nutrients provide a multi-faceted approach to maintain healthy serum cortisol levels and provide optimal support for occasional stress, mood, healthful eating and sleep quality.

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  1. Dedovic,, The brain and stress axis: the neural correlates of cortisol regulation in response to stress. Neuroimage 2009, Jun 12.
  2. Biswajit A., et al. A standardized Withania somnifera extract significantly reduces stress-related parameters in chronically stressed humans: A double-blind randomized, placebo-controlled study. JANA 2008; vol II, No 1: 50-56.
  3. Perfumi M, Mattioli L. Adaptogenic and central nervous system effects of single doses of 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside Rhodiola rosea L. extract in mice. Phytother Res. 2007 Jan;21(1):37-43.
  4. Maslova LV, Kondrat’ev Blu, Maslov LN, Lishmanov IuB. The cardioprotective and antiadrenergic activity of an extract of Rhodiola rosea in stress. Eksp Klin Farmakol 1994 Nov;57(6):61-3.
  5. Xu Q, et al. Antidepressant effects of the mixture of honokiol and magnolol from the barks of Magnolia officinalis in stressed rodents. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2008. Apr 1;32(3):715-25.
  6. Kimura K, et al. L-theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biol Psychol. 2007 Jan;74(1):39-4514.
  7. Rask E, et. al. Tissue specific dysregulation of cortisol metabolism in human obesity. J Clin Endocrinol 2001;86(3):1418-1421.
  8. Holick MF. Vitamin D deficiency. NEJM 2007;357(3):266-281.