Life Extension Magazine March 2017
Natural Methods to Suppress Destructive Cortisol
By Susan Goldschein
One way stress inflicts its deadly damage is by raising cortisol levels.1
The result is accelerated aging that wreaks havoc throughout the body.
Increased cortisol levels not only age our internal organs, but make us appear older than our actual years.2
People with elevated levels of cortisol have higher mortality rates and face an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and neurodegenerative disorders.3-6
Too often, physicians prescribe a range of addicting pharmaceuticals in an effort to reduce a patient’s stress and anxiety. This provides a temporary fix, but tolerance to the drugs negates their effectiveness over time.
Fortunately, researchers have identified several natural compounds that have been shown in humans to produce a noticeable reduction in cortisol levels.
These natural compounds can help reduce the toxic response to stress and anxiety that underlies so many of today’s chronic health problems.
Life-Threatening Dangers of High Cortisol
Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone that is essential for life.
However, in the presence of chronic stress, cortisol surges to unhealthy high levels, producing a major problem that threatens health and longevity.
Most disturbingly, recent studies have shown that chronically elevated cortisol levels are strongly associated with increased risks of dying. For example, one study showed that men with high cortisol levels were 63%, and women 82%, more likely to die than those with lower levels.7
The risks of dying specifically from cardiovascular disease are even more pronounced in those with high cortisol: one study found a five-fold increased risk of death, both among those with known cardiovascular disease and with people previously free of risk factors at baseline.3
High cortisol levels create havoc through the body’s systems and are associated with a long list of age-accelerating diseases including obesity, hypertension, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular risk, as well as increased risk of infection, osteoporosis, depression, and even neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.2,3,7-12
Another study found that higher cortisol levels are associated with higher perceived age, that is, age as assessed from a facial photograph. People with higher levels of cortisol look older because they are experiencing accelerated aging that is beginning to show up in their facial features.2 Perceived age is well known to be associated with illness and the risk of death.2
There is even submicroscopic evidence that cortisol accelerates aging. Chronically high cortisol levels are associated with shortening of telomeres, the “fuse-like” stretches of DNA that cap the ends of our chromosomes.13,14 As telomeres shorten, the cells that bear them get closer and closer to the ends of their useful lives, eventually aging the tissues and organs in which they dwell.
Stress—emotional, psychological, physical, or biochemical—is detrimental in part because it raises levels of cortisol. Reducing stress is always a good idea, but much of the stress in our daily lives is unavoidable, and sometimes efforts to avoid it bring on more stress. That’s why it is so important to reduce the cortisol elevations induced by stress, even when we cannot eliminate the stress itself.
And that is what has scientists so excited about natural compounds capable of lowering cortisol levels. Let’s look at those now.
Lychee Polyphenols Lower Cortisol Levels
The lychee fruit has been grown in China since at least the 11th century.15 It is rich in polyphenols that promote a variety of biological activities, most notably the ability to fight oxidative stress, inflammation and lower cortisol levels.16
Most lychee polyphenol products available in stores contain long-chain polyphenols which are not easily absorbed in the intestinal tract.
Using a proprietary process, scientists are now able to reduce the polyphenol size through steps that include the addition of green tea catechins.17 This allows the new molecule to be stable and highly bioavailable. When researchers tested the bioavailability of the lychee-green tea blend in humans, they found that the polyphenol content in blood was 3 times higher in comparison to ordinary lychee extract alone.18
Human studies show that the lychee-green tea blend can reduce circulating cortisol levels, and can also oppose other physiological effects of stress.
In one study, scientists enrolled 19 sedentary, but otherwise healthy, male volunteers.16 Subjects were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or 100 mg of the new lychee-green tea blend in water each day for 4 weeks. Subjects underwent blood tests for cortisol, markers of inflammation, and other basic evaluations, before and after the supplementation period.
At the end of treatment, lychee-green tea blend recipients, but not placebo users, had significant decreases in cortisol level, as well as the inflammatory cytokines IL-1beta and IL-6.
Because it is known that exercise raises both cortisol and inflammatory factors, subjects were also tested after exercise. The rate of increase in these compounds was significantly reduced in lychee-green tea blend-supplemented subjects, demonstrating that the lychee-green tea blend can suppress stress-induced, as well as baseline, cortisol levels.
That finding was supported by another study in which ten healthy male students were supplemented with 100 mg of the lychee-green tea blend, twice daily, for ten days prior to performing physical activity conducted under low oxygen conditions to bring out stress.19
While both groups had similar cortisol levels prior to supplementation, the placebo group’s cortisol rose more after the stressful exercise, while the rise in the lychee and green tea blend-supplemented group was significantly less pronounced.
A third study demonstrated similar results using a different cortisol-raising stress: hot water. In this study, healthy young men received either a placebo or lychee-green tea blend, 100 mg, half an hour before immersing their lower legs in hot water for half an hour.20 Again, measurements of cortisol and inflammatory cytokines were made before and after the stress-inducer.
The lychee-green tea blend recipients, compared to placebo subjects, had significantly lower cortisol concentrations, as well as levels of IL-1beta and IL-6, when measured after the heat stress. These effects persisted for up to two hours after the heat stress had ended.
Supplemented men experienced a significantly lower rise in skin and core body temperatures during the application of heat, indicating improved total body control over the stressful event.
These findings have been further borne out by subsequent studies showing that lychee-green tea blend supplementation prevents heat-induced body temperature elevations, beneficially reduces fluid losses from sweating under heat stress, and prevents stress-induced blunting of immune system responses.29-32
Tree Bark Extracts Help Lower Cortisol
Extracts of Magnolia officinalis bark have been previously studied for their anti-anxiety effects, but without the troubling side effects characteristic of anti-anxiety medications.33 An extract from the bark of the Asian tree Phellodendron amurense, has been tested in an animal model of stress, and demonstrated significant reductions in stress manifestations without sedation.33
Human studies of the combination of extracts have demonstrated both their stress-relieving properties and their ability to mitigate stress-induced cortisol elevations. In one such study, researchers enrolled 56 moderately stressed but otherwise healthy men and women.34 Subjects supplemented with 250 mg of the mixed bark extracts twice daily, or received a placebo, for a 4-week period.
After the supplementation period, cortisol levels were 18% lower in the supplemented group than in the placebo recipients. This reduction in cortisol levels was accompanied by improvements in mood and reductions in stress, depression, anger, and fatigue, all of which could be interpreted as related to the lower cortisol levels.
Two other studies have evaluated the combined bark extract supplement at a dose of 250 mg, three times daily. In one, conducted in otherwise healthy overweight, premenopausal women, the supplement significantly decreased anxiety as measured by a variety of scales and scores.33 In the other, the placebo group had significant weight gain over 6 weeks, which was prevented in the supplemented subjects.35
In both studies, the supplemented subjects also had reductions in cortisol levels compared with placebo, but the differences did not reach statistical significance, probably because of the relatively small sample size of these studies.
Everyday stress raises and keeps elevated levels of our stress-response hormone, cortisol.
Elevated cortisol brings with it components of the deadly metabolic syndrome, as well as additional threats such as immune suppression, osteoporosis, and neurodegeneration.
Now, it is possible to mitigate the impact of cortisol, even if we cannot eliminate the stress from our lives.
Lychee-green tea blend and bark extracts from Magnolia and Phellodendron trees have all been shown to lower cortisol levels in humans.
Lowering chronically-elevated cortisol levels can help mitigate this underlying cause of common disorders associated with aging.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
- Christensen H, Boysen G, Johannesen HH. Serum-cortisol reflects severity and mortality in acute stroke. J Neurol Sci. 2004;217(2):175-80.
- Noordam R, Gunn DA, Tomlin CC, et al. Cortisol serum levels in familial longevity and perceived age: the Leiden longevity study Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012;37(10):1669-75.
- Vogelzangs N, Beekman AT, Milaneschi Y, et al. Urinary cortisol and six-year risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010;95(11):4959-64.
- Hackett RA, Kivimaki M, Kumari M, et al. Diurnal Cortisol Patterns, Future Diabetes, and Impaired Glucose Metabolism in the Whitehall II Cohort Study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2016;101(2):619-25.
- Constantinopoulos P, Michalaki M, Kottorou A, et al. Cortisol in tissue and systemic level as a contributing factor to the development of metabolic syndrome in severely obese patients. Eur J Endocrinol. 2015;172(1):69-78.
- Bernardi F, Lanzone A, Cento RM, et al. Allopregnanolone and dehydroepiandrosterone response to corticotropin-releasing factor in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Eur J Endocrinol. 2000;142(5):466-71.
- Schoorlemmer RM, Peeters GM, van Schoor NM, et al. Relationships between cortisol level, mortality and chronic diseases in older persons. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2009;71(6):779-86.
- Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Doyle WJ, et al. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012;109(16):5995-9.
- Duggal NA, Upton J, Phillips AC, et al. NK cell immunesenescence is increased by psychological but not physical stress in older adults associated with raised cortisol and reduced perforin expression. Age (Dordr). 2015;37(1):9748.
- Notarianni E. Hypercortisolemia and glucocorticoid receptor-signaling insufficiency in Alzheimer’s disease initiation and development. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2013;10(7):714-31.
- Popp J, Wolfsgruber S, Heuser I, et al. Cerebrospinal fluid cortisol and clinical disease progression in MCI and dementia of Alzheimer’s type. Neurobiol Aging. 2015;36(2):601-7.
- Toledo JB, Toledo E, Weiner MW, et al. Cardiovascular risk factors, cortisol, and amyloid-beta deposition in Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. Alzheimers Dement. 2012;8(6):483-9.
- Aulinas A, Ramirez MJ, Barahona MJ, et al. Telomeres and endocrine dysfunction of the adrenal and GH/IGF-1 axes. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2013;79(6):751-9.
- Tomiyama AJ, O’Donovan A, Lin J, et al. Does cellular aging relate to patterns of allostasis? An examination of basal and stress reactive HPA axis activity and telomere length. Physiol Behav. 2012;106(1):40-5.
- Available at: https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/lychee.html. Accessed November 21, 2016.
- Lee JB, Shin YO, Min YK, et al. The effect of Oligonol intake on cortisol and related cytokines in healthy young men. Nutr Res Pract. 2010;4(3):203-7.
- Available at: http://oligonol-net.com/e/about.html. Accessed November 22, 2016.
- Miura T, Kitadate K, Fujii H. The Function of the Next Generation Polyphenol, “Oligonol”. Biotechnology in Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals: CRC Press;2010:91-102.
- Nagasawa J, Sugiyama K, Uchimaru J. Oxidative stress in hypobaric and normobaric hypoxia and antioxidant effect of Oligonol. Japan J Mountain Med. 2010;30:118-24.
- Shin Y-O, Lee J-B, Min Y-K, et al. Effect of oligonol intake on cortisol and cytokines, and body temperature after leg immersion into hot water. Food Science and Biotechnology. 2011;20(3):659-63.
- Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2567.2002.01447.x/epdf. Accessed December 1, 2016.
- Scheller J, Chalaris A, Schmidt-Arras D, et al. The pro- and anti-inflammatory properties of the cytokine interleukin-6. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2011;1813(5):878-88.
- Harris TB, Ferrucci L, Tracy RP, et al. Associations of elevated interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein levels with mortality in the elderly. Am J Med. 1999;106(5):506-12.
- Ershler WB, Keller ET. Age-associated increased interleukin-6 gene expression, late-life diseases, and frailty. Annu Rev Med. 2000;51:245-70.
- Ferrucci L, Harris TB, Guralnik JM, et al. Serum IL-6 level and the development of disability in older persons. J Am Geriatr Soc. 1999;47(6):639-46.
- Hubbard RE, O’Mahony MS, Savva GM, et al. Inflammation and frailty measures in older people. J Cell Mol Med. 2009;13(9b):3103-9.
- Maggio M, Guralnik JM, Longo DL, et al. Interleukin-6 in aging and chronic disease: a magnificent pathway. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2006;61(6):575-84.
- Franceschi C, Olivieri F, Marchegiani F, et al. Genes involved in immune response/inflammation, IGF1/insulin pathway and response to oxidative stress play a major role in the genetics of human longevity: the lesson of centenarians. Mech Ageing Dev. 2005;126(2):351-61.
- Lee J, Shin Y, Murota H. Oligonol supplementation modulates plasma volume and osmolality and sweating after heat load in humans. J Med Food. 2015;18(5):578-83.
- Lee JB, Shin YO. Oligonol supplementation affects leukocyte and immune cell counts after heat loading in humans. Nutrients. 2014;6(6):2466-77.
- Lee JB, Shin YO. Beneficial effect of Oligonol supplementation on sweating response under heat stress in humans. Food Funct. 2014;5(10):2516-20.
- Shin YO, Lee JB, Song YJ, et al. Oligonol supplementation attenuates body temperature and the circulating levels of prostaglandin E2 and cyclooxygenase-2 after heat stress in humans. J Med Food. 2013;16(4):318-23.
- Kalman DS, Feldman S, Feldman R, et al. Effect of a proprietary Magnolia and Phellodendron extract on stress levels in healthy women: a pilot, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Nutr J. 2008;7:11.
- Talbott SM, Talbott JA, Pugh M. Effect of Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense (Relora(R)) on cortisol and psychological mood state in moderately stressed subjects. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):37.
- Garrison R, Chambliss WG. Effect of a proprietary Magnolia and Phellodendron extract on weight management: a pilot, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Altern Ther Health Med. 2006;12(1):50-4.