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Cortisol in hair measured in young adults - a biomarker of major life stressors?
Linköping University, Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Health and Society. Linköping University, Faculty of Health Sciences.
Linköping University, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Pediatrics. Linköping University, Faculty of Health Sciences. Östergötlands Läns Landsting, Center of Paediatrics and Gynaecology and Obstetrics, Department of Paediatrics in Linköping.
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Cognition, Development and Disability. Linköping University, Faculty of Health Sciences.
Linköping University, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Clinical Chemistry. Linköping University, Faculty of Health Sciences. Östergötlands Läns Landsting, Center for Diagnostics, Department of Clinical Chemistry.
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2011 (English)In: BMC Clinical Pathology, ISSN 1472-6890, E-ISSN 1472-6890, Vol. 11, no 1, 12- p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background Stress as a cause of illness has been firmly established. In public health and stress research a retrospective biomarker of extended stress would be an indispensible aid. The objective of this pilot study was to investigate whether concentrations of cortisol in hair correlate with perceived stress, experiences of serious life events, and perceived health in young adults. Methods Hair samples were cut from the posterior vertex area of (n = 99) university students who also answered a questionnaire covering experiences of serious life events, perceived Stress Scale and perceived health during the last three months. Cortisol was measured using a competitive radioimmunoassay in methanol extracts of hair samples frozen in liquid nitrogen and mechanically pulverised. Results Mean cortisol levels were significantly related to serious life events (p = 0.045), weakly negatively correlated to perceived stress (p = 0.025, r = -0.061) but nor affected by sex, coloured/permed hair, intake of pharmaceuticals or self-reported health. In a multiple regression model, only the indicator of serious life events had an independent (p = 0.041) explanation of increased levels of cortisol in hair. Out of four outliers with extremely high cortisol levels two could be contacted, both reported serious psychological problems. Conclusions These findings suggest that measurement of cortisol in hair could serve as a retrospective biomarker of increased cortisol production reflecting exposure to major life stressors and possibly extended psychological illness with important implications for research, clinical practice and public health. Experience of serious life events seems to be more important in raising cortisol levels in hair than perceived stress.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
BioMed Central, 2011. Vol. 11, no 1, 12- p.
Keyword [en]
Biomarker; Coping; Cortisol; Hair; Serious life events; Stress
National Category
Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-74866DOI: 10.1186/1472-6890-11-12PubMedID: 22026917OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-74866DiVA: diva2:496644
Available from: 2012-02-10 Created: 2012-02-10 Last updated: 2017-12-07Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Early stress, cortisol in hair and health among children in different psychosocial environments
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Early stress, cortisol in hair and health among children in different psychosocial environments
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Psychosocial circumstances during early life are increasingly recognized as crucial, not only for the growing individual but also for health throughout life. A possible mechanism could be physiologic dysregulation due to stress. Cortisol in hair is a new biomarker that allows assessment of long-term activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

The objective of this thesis was to investigate the relationship between early stress, levels of cortisol in hair and health among children in different psycho-social environments.

The ABIS-study is a prospective population-based cohort study of every child born in southeast Sweden between Oct 1 1997 and Oct 1 1999 (N=21,700) in which approximately 17,000 families (79%) participated. The studies presented in Papers I, III and IV were based on ABIS data on children aged 1, 3, 5 and 8 years concerning stress related psychosocial variables as well as hair samples and diabetes related autoantibodies. Papers I and IV compared a subsample (n=2,448) from two different social environments. Paper III consisted of a subsample of 100 children as well as their mothers. Paper II covered 99 university students.

Paper I showed that the risk for diabetes-related autoantibodies, both against GADA and IAG2A (>95% cut off), was significantly higher (p<0.0001) among children from the blue-collar than from the white-collar city. This difference persisted still after adjustment for other previously documented risk factors. In paper II the method of measuring cortisol concentrations in hair was developed and mean cortisol levels were significantly related to serious life events (p=0.045) among the students. Paper III demonstrated that, in children from one to eight years of age, cortisol levels in hair decreased over time and correlated to each succeeding age, between years 1 and 3 (r=0.30,p=0.002), 3 and 5 (r=0.39, p=0.001), and 5 and 8 (r=0.44, p=0.001). Repeated measures gave a significant linear association over time (p=0.001). Maternal hair cortisol levels during the second and third trimester and child hair cortisol at year 1 and 3 was also significantly associated. Paper IV showed that children with prenatal psychosocial exposures had higher infant cortisol levels in hair (B=0.40, p<0.0001, adjusted for gender and size for gestational age) in a dose-response manner and were more often (p≤0.05) affected by 12 of the 14 most common childhood diagnoses with a general pattern of rising ORs.

In conclusion, the findings in this thesis showed that children born into an environment fraught with adverse psychosocial exposures seem to have an increased hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity. It appears to be persistent throughout early childhood and affect health negatively, as evidenced through common childhood diseases and levels of autoantibodies. A widespread and dose response-like effect of adverse psychosocial circumstances was seen on the different outcomes studied throughout this thesis. This supports the model of physiologic dysregulation as a plausible pathway in how the duration and number of early detrimental exposures act as a trajectory to health disparities. Knowledge of these relationships could be valuable in selecting preventive measures, not least in primary care. Moreover, given the prolonged nature of exposure to a stressful social environment, the novel biomarker of cortisol in hair appears to be a useful aid in studies on how long-term stress affects health and may be particularly relevant when applied to research on children.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2014. 83 p.
Series
Linköping University Medical Dissertations, ISSN 0345-0082 ; 1419
National Category
Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-111096 (URN)10.3384/diss.diva-111096 (DOI)978-91-7519-243-7 (ISBN)
Public defence
2014-10-24, Aulan, Hälsans Hus, Campus US, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 13:00 (Swedish)
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Supervisors
Available from: 2014-10-07 Created: 2014-10-07 Last updated: 2014-10-14Bibliographically approved

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Karlén, JerkerLudvigsson, JohnnyFrostell, AnneliTheodorsson, ElvarFaresjö, Tomas

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