Why balancing your cortisol levels could be the key to better health and happier skin

A busy day at work, a painful commute or a long evening out can leave you feeling drained, sick and upset. What gives? Microstressors such as these directly affects the level of cortisol in your body, which can cause fatigue and exhaustion. “Cortisol is a corticosteroid hormone secreted by the adrenal gland, which controls blood sugar levels, regulates metabolism, helps reduce inflammation, and assists with memory formulation. It has a controlling effect on salt and water balance, and helps control blood pressure,” explains Dr Rohan Bokadwalla, a Mumbai-based neuropsychiatrist. In times of stress, tension and worry, the secretion of cortisol is elevated. “This hormonal response doesn’t distinguish between good stress (a challenge at work) and bad stress (unemployment). With any stress, cortisol raises your blood sugar and blood pressure while lowering immune system response. The resulting “fight or flight’ energy burst can feel good for about 10-20 minutes. When it’s gone, it leaves you feeling tired but wired,” explains Dr Pranav Anam, geneticist at health-tech company, The Gene Box. “Chronic stress can zap your energy levels, leaving you incapable of attending to the most basic tasks,” adds Dr Shweta Bajaj, an endocrinologist at Columbia Asia Hospital, Ghaziabad.

How increased cortisol can affect the body

“When cortisol rises abnormally and consistently in day to day functioning, it can disrupt normal functioning and lead to mood irregularity, headaches, memory lapses, heart diseases, rapid weight gain in the face and abdomen, decreased sex drive, and even lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure and osteoporosis,” says Dr Bokadwalla. It can also increase visceral fat in the body (the squishy fat surrounding organs), leading to issues with heart health.

An increased level of the hormone could also be the reason for rosacea and acne. “Fluctuating levels of cortisol in the body makes the skin more sensitive and reactive. High cortisol levels cause the skin’s sebaceous glands to produce more sebum. This additional oil clogs the pores, leading to the development of inflammation and bacteria that results in acne. Cortisol also has the power to accelerate the ageing process of the skin, rapidly enhancing common unwanted ageing signs like lines and wrinkles, age spots and skin dullness,” explains Mumbai-based dermatologist, Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi. “When your body starts producing excess cortisol, it loses its ability to retain water. This is what leads to dehydrated skin that looks flaky. Worse, dry skin often accelerates the appearance of dark spots and wrinkles as well,” says endocrinologist Dr Pradeep Gadge.

Thankfully, there are steps you can take in your everyday life to balance the cortisol levels in your body. We got the experts to list them out.

How to balance cortisol levels in your body

  1. “The minute your body is dehydrated, the mind perceives it as a stressful condition and releases cortisol, says Dr Gadge. “So drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration helps lower cortisol levels.”
  2. “A combination of refined sugar with refined carbs instantly increases cortisol levels while spiking blood sugar,” says Dr Anam. “In fact, craving are usually a symptom of [excess] cortisol, which is why you trend you stress eat,” he adds.
  3. “One of the best ways to keep your cortisol levels in check for the day is to balance proteins with slow carbs and good quality fats,” confirms Dr Anam. “Plus, refrain from too many carbs at night so you can sleep better,” he suggests.
  4. “Taking Omega-3, Vitamin C and Vitamin B5 [supplements] can keep the cortisol levels in check too” Dr Anam adds.
  5. Uninterrupted sleep, meditation, and deep breathing can lower cortisol levels. Studies have proved that mindfulness can help balance the hormone if you’ve spent the day dealing with microstressors.
  6. “Being physically active is beneficial to health and can improve a person’s mood,” advises Dr Gadge. But he also adds a word of caution. “Intense exercise can trigger an increase in cortisol levels, as this is the body’s way of coping with the additional stress that the exercise places upon it,” he says. So, listen to your body and go slow when it’s telling you to.
  7. Playing with a pet is a proven way to bring the levels way down, as positive thinking can reduce feelings of panic, stress and anxiety from the day.

The article was first published in Vogue


  • Aparrna Gupta

    Transitioning from crafting stories for The Asian Age and Bombay Times to setting beauty trends in Verve, Aparrna Gupta’s journey has always revolved around resonant storytelling. Her prowess in content creation is unparalleled, with articles featured in renowned publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel India, Lifestyle Asia, Elle, and Femina. She also excels in content ideation, trend identification, mood board creation, and product styling. Her expertise has proven invaluable to homegrown brands, enabling them to authentically connect with their audience.

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