4 Adaptogenic Herbs For Balancing High Cortisol

By Ali Kuoppala | Last reviewed Tue 25 September 2018

Medical Review by Gerardo Sison, PharmD

Cortisol is the main stress hormone in the body, and chronically elevated cortisol for sure is one of the worst things a man could have, as cortisol can actually destroy your testosterone molecules before they even leave your testicles.

Your gonads actually produce this enzyme called 11ßHSD-1 which normally protects your testosterone molecules from cortisol, but in the times of prolonged stress and elevated cortisol, there simply is too much cortisol for 11ßHSD-1 to handle.

When that happens, you can be sure that your testosterone levels will drop very low and very fast.

To combat chronically high cortisol levels, we can, however, use certain supplements and herbs. They’re called adaptogens, and even though they’re herbal remedies, there’s still plenty of studies to back up everything they’re claimed to do.

The name “adaptogen” comes from the fact that these herbs literally adapt to the stress that you’re feeling, and help your body return to “homeostasis” (balance).

In human words that means the following: If your cortisol levels are chronically high, adaptogens will press them down. Or if your levels are too low (this is possible too) then adaptogens will “normalize” your cortisol levels back to where they belong.

Even though this may sound like a bunch of shamanic herbal bro-science, there’s still plenty of research to actually back it up.

So here’s the list of 4 powerful adaptogens to balance cortisol:

1. Schizandra Chinensis

best adaptogenic herb, schizandra chinensisSchizandra Chinensis is a woody vine with red berries native to Far-East Russia and Northern China. It’s most commonly used in East-Asia for its stress reducing properties.

In Chinese medicine, both the leaf and the berries are consumed, usually by brewing them into a tea.

But most of the research is based on the berries and berry powders of schizandra, not on the actual leaf.

The greatest thing about Schizandra is the fact that it has been under some really intense scientific research lately, and the studies can be counted in thousands.

Here are the ones you should know about:

a) Few of the first studies about Schizandra were done in Russia. What the researchers found out was that Schizandra counteracted the stress response of intense physical exercise significantly, and had significant effects in balancing overall cortisol levels. [study, study].

b) One more recent study found out that the elite athletes who can’t get that normal training-induced cortisol spike anymore, see this natural cortisol spike coming back after supplementing with Schizandra extract. That’s basically how certain adaptogens work. They’ll balance high cortisol by reducing it, but also increase too low cortisol back to normal homeostatic levels when needed.

c) This study also found out that Shizandra increased nitric oxide levels in humans. So the cortisol response is by far not the only benefit of this herb.

d) This interesting study used a combination of some well-known adaptogens (Schizandra, Eleuthero, Panax Ginseng, Bryonia alba, and Rhodiola Rosea). They fed the mixture to multiple different animals for a total of 10 days. After the treatment, the researcher group noted that the placebo group (which was fed no adaptogens) had 200-300% higher cortisol levels than the group which was fed the mixture of adaptogens.

e) This study found out that the group of athletes who used Schizandra extract prior to their performance, had significantly lower stress hormone levels post-exercise when compared to the placebo group.

When supplementing with Schizandra Chinensis, I would recommend this organic berry powder.

2. Gynostemma

gynostemma, a potent adaptogenic herb with stress hormone lowering benefitsGynostemma has been touted as one of the worlds strongest adaptogens, and quite frankly there’s a good reason for that.

You see the Gynostemma herb has the highest amount of saponins are known to man (steroidal and other kinds).

For comparison, one strong adaptogen called Panax Ginseng has around 30 different saponins, but Gynostemma beats that by having a staggering 88 different saponin compounds.

Some of these saponins are steroidal (they could boost testosterone), and some are other types, such as the Gypenosides which are known for their cortisol lowering properties.

What’s even better is the fact that the saponins are structurally similar to our androgenic hormones, and they’re both water and fat soluble, so they’re going to absorb really well into the body.

Not only that. Gynostemma is also extremely high in antioxidants and it actually helps our body to produce more of its own super antioxidant SOD (superoxidasemutase).

Here’s what science says about this king of adaptogens:

a) This study found out that Gynostemma tea strengthened the immune system significantly.

b) A saponin called Gypenoside in gynostemma relieved oxidative stress in cells and improved cardiovascular function via improving the condition of the endothelium (the superficial layer in blood vessels). Gypenosides also significantly improved liver cell function.

c) This study found out that gynostemma directly increased nitric oxide production in the body and lowered blood pressure levels significantly, they also found out that if you’re having too low blood pressure, gynostemma normalizes it back to homeostatic levels.

d) This research centered book about adaptogens (must have if you’re interested in adaptogenic herbs), found out numerous studies proving how gynostemma is highly adaptogenic, bringing the body back to homeostatic balance by altering various hormones in the body, including cortisol.

In my opinion, gynostemma is best when brewed into a tea .

3. Ashwagandha

ashwagandha cortisol adaptogenAshwagandha is without a doubt one of my favorite herbs.

That’s because it’s a very strong adaptogen, while also being a potent natural testosterone booster proven by human studies.

It’s very dense in nutrients and phytochemicals, along with saponins and various other natural compounds that act in awesome synergy in the body.

Here’s some of the research about the great Ashwagandha:

a) This double-blind randomized cross-over placebo study found out that Withania Somnifera (Ashwagandha) significantly reduced serum cortisol levels in humans and should be seen as a very potent stress reliever.

b) This study found out that Ashwagandha has some potential thyroid hormone stimulating effects. That’s good because if your thyroid is not functioning properly (which is far more common than people know) then your testosterone and cortisol ratio will very quickly shift to the right.

c) This study actually found out that Ashwagandha heals the symptoms of adrenal fatigue replenishing the glands. That’s great because whacky cortisol is often a direct causation of adrenal gland problems.

d) This study found out that Ashwagandha improves sperm production via reducing oxidative stress in testicles. The occurrence also led to a nice 40% increase in serum testosterone.

I used to have plenty of ashwagandha powder around my house, but nowadays I use KSM-66 water extracted ashwagandha, since it’s proven to have the highest number of active withanolides.

4. Rhodiola Rosea

rhodiola rosea, a strong adaptogenic herb with cortisol reducing effectsRhodiola Rosea (Siberian Ginseng) is one of the most famous adaptogens in the world.

It grows in the coldest parts of the world (Siberia, Northern Finland, and Northern Asia).

It’s been used to combat stress in the extremely cold conditions for over 1,000 years, and it’s known to been used by the Vikings in their trips.

When the scientists of the Soviet Union found out about its remarkable benefits, they vowed to never let the secret of Siberian Ginseng out to the Americans.

The herb was actually so big deal in the motherland that it was used by cosmonauts and by the olympic team of Soviet Union.

After the Soviet Union fell apart, the knowledge about Rhodiola Rosea and many other adaptogens, finally reached the U.S.

But those are only stories, and this is what modern-day science has to offer:

a) The modern-day science has found more than 140 nutrients in this herb. Some of which are known for their testosterone boosting benefits (apigenin and quercetin) and some of which are known for adaptogenic cortisol lowering effects (alkaloids, terpenoids, and various saponins).

b) This case study featured 82 subjects who started using Rhodiola Rosea. The results of that study state: “R. Rosea was able to significantly reduce stress and fatigue”.

c) This study found out that R. Rosea deepens sleep by a dose-dependent manner in healthy men.

d) This study found out that Rhodiola reduces cortisol levels significantly in humans.

My choice for Siberian Ginseng is this Rhodiola Rosea powder.


If you’re having high cortisol levels and you want to reduce them so that you can produce more of that natural testosterone, by all means, do get yourself some of these powerful natural adaptogens.

They’re not only good for stress and testosterone. You’ll get plenty of other health benefits from them too. Such as Improved heart health, better-looking skin, improved vascularity, and blood flow, mental clarity, enhanced cognitive ability, immune support. and much much more.

Ali Kuoppala

Ali Kuoppala is the founder of Anabolic Men. He has authored and co-authored multiple men's health books and focuses on uncovering the methods of optimizing hormonal health. To date, his articles on various websites have been read more than 15-million times. To read more about Ali, visit his Medium article.