A new study shows that high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are linked to a greater risk of death in coronavirus patients.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland. It is best known for its role in regulating your body’s fight-or-flight response during times of stress. Cortisol makes you more alert, allowing you to respond more quickly to physical threats.
But cortisol also has a downside. Too much of it for too long can impair immune function and increase the risk of infection and serious illness.
The study was published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. Researchers looked at cortisol in 535 hospital patients, 403 of whom had COVID-19.[i]
Normal daytime cortisol levels are between 100 and 200 nm/L. They drop to almost zero when you sleep.
The coronavirus patients had readings as high as 3,241.
And the higher their cortisol levels, the more likely they were to get sicker and die. Those with readings of 744 or less lived 36 days on average. Those above 744 survived just 15 days.
The study shows that reducing cortisol could potentially be an effective treatment for COVID-19. In fact, another study has already shown the cortisol-lowering medication dexamethasone lowers death risk in severe coronavirus patients.[ii] [iii]
Dexamethasone was tested in a major clinical trial of 6,425 patients in Britain. It reduced deaths by a third among COVID-19 patients on ventilators and by a fifth among patients in less serious condition.[iv]
But there is a downside to dexamethasone. Common side effects of this steroid medication include insomnia, weight gain, heartburn, muscle weakness, and higher blood sugar levels.[v]
The fact is, you don’t need a drug to reduce cortisol.
4 Natural Ways to Lower Cortisol
High cortisol levels can be damaging whether or not you have COVID-19. Here’s how to keep the stress hormone under control without dangerous medications…
1. Walk. An article published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that light exercise, including walking, “reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.”[vi]
2. Take lutein and zeaxanthin. These two popular supplements are mainly used for eye health. They protect your vision from harmful blue light.
A study at the University of Georgia found that they also have potent anti-cortisol effects.
Researchers recruited 59 healthy young adults. The participants received either a daily placebo or a lutein/zeaxanthin combination supplement. The supplement subjects took either 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin, or 20 mg of lutein and 4 mg of zeaxanthin.[vii]
Scientists found that both doses significantly lowered stress and cortisol levels.
Researchers called the results “groundbreaking.”
3. Avoid high-glycemic foods. The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly foods cause your blood sugar to rise. Refined carbohydrates such as sugary soda, candy, pastries, pasta, white rice, and white bread have high glycemic index numbers.
When your blood sugar goes up quickly, your body reacts by releasing insulin. The resulting drop in blood sugar leads to the release of cortisol.[viii]
Minimizing sugar and starches in your diet reduces cortisol.
4. Spend time outdoors. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology asked participants to spend 10 minutes or more in an outdoor, natural setting three times a week.
Researchers took saliva samples from the subjects before and after. The samples were analyzed for cortisol.[ix]
Dr. MaryCarol Hunter was the lead researcher. She said the participants could choose “the time of day, duration, and the place of their nature experience.” They could sit or stroll.
Dr. Hunter found that 20 minutes of communing peacefully with nature significantly lowers cortisol levels. Thirty minutes is even more beneficial.[x]
Pandemic-related stress could raise your cortisol levels. Although further research is required, this may make you more vulnerable to COVID-19. But lowering your stress using the natural methods above is always a good idea no matter what the circumstances.
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