People with low cortisol levels have younger looking face for longer

The less cortisol there is in your body, the younger people are likely to guess you are, researchers at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands discovered. People with relatively low levels of cortisol can look up to four years younger than people with high cortisol levels. By the way, in people who have special longevity genes cortisol does not speed up the aging of the face. These people are in some way protected against the pro-aging effect of cortisol.

The publication that this posting is about dates from 2012 and it discusses data collected in the Leiden Longevity Study. In that project gerontologists at the University of Leiden studied a group of several hundred Dutch people, all born in families in which unusually large numbers of people lived to an unusually old age.

For the 2012 study, the researchers showed photos of the faces of the participants in the Longevity Study to a panel who had to guess the age of the people in the photos. The researchers measured the amount of cortisol those same participants had in their blood in the morning.

After the researchers had filtered out factors such as chronological age, sex, bodyweight, smoking and medicine use, they saw that participants’ age was estimated to be older the higher their morning cortisol level was. For every 0.1 micromole per litre more cortisol they looked 0.42 years older.

The Dutch researchers then looked at the participants with long-lived family members, who probably carried a number of longevity genes, and the participants in the control group, who probably had an average gene package.

The researchers discovered that the cortisol level speeded up aging in the face of those in the control group only. For every 0.1 micromole per litre more cortisol they looked 0.81 years older.

The figure below shows the relationship between perceived age and cortisol level in the control group. The researchers filtered out factors like chronological age, sex, bodyweight and medicine use, and divided the participants into three equal-sized groups according to their cortisol levels.

The participants with low cortisol levels looked almost four years younger than the participants with high cortisol levels.

“The main conclusions of the current study are twofold”, the researchers wrote in their concluding paragraph. “First, higher levels of serum morning cortisol levels associated with a higher perceived age.”

“Second, although the controls with high cortisol levels looked significantly older than those with lower levels, such a relationship was not seen in the offspring, suggesting these offspring have a more stress-resistant phenotype.”

“Additional rhythmic cortisol studies will provide greater sensitivity for confirming the relationship between cortisol levels, perceived age and familial longevity in the future.”

Cortisol serum levels in familial longevity and perceived age: The Leiden Longevity Study


Cortisol levels are strongly associated with a person’s health. Familial longevity and age assessment of facial photographs (perceived age) are both associated with morbidity and mortality. The present study aimed to investigate morning cortisol levels in familial longevity and the association of these levels with perceived age.

Perceived age and serum morning cortisol levels were measured for 138 offspring from long-lived families and 138 partners from the Leiden Longevity Study. Considered confounding factors were chronological age, gender, body mass index, current smoking habits, antidepressant drug use, antihypertensive drugs and diabetes medication.

In the fully adjusted model, which was restricted to participants who did not use antidepressant drugs, offspring had similar serum cortisol levels compared to their partners (0.54 and 0.55 μmol/L, respectively; p = 0.54). Using a similar model taking offspring and partners together, an increase of 0.1 μmol/L in morning cortisol levels was associated with an 0.42 (95% CI 0.0–0.84, p = 0.048) year increase in perceived age. This association was significantly attenuated in the offspring group (0.01, 95% CI −0.58 to 0.59, p = 0.98) compared to the partner group (0.81, 95% CI 0.20–1.41, p = 0.009 year increase in perceived age per 0.1 μmol/L increase in cortisol respectively) (p for interaction = 0.042).

This study demonstrates that high levels of cortisol are associated with a higher perceived age. This association was attenuated in offspring from long-lived families compared to their partners, suggesting enhanced stress resistance in these subjects. Future research will be aimed at elucidating potential mechanisms underlying the observations in this study.