Relative sensitivity of cortisol indices to psychosocial and physical health factors
SourcePLoS One, 14, 4, (2019), article e0213513
Article / Letter to editor
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SubjectRadboudumc 18: Healthcare improvement science RIHS: Radboud Institute for Health Sciences
OBJECTIVE: Regulation of cortisol under resting conditions is widely used to assess physical and psychological status, but due to the diversity of possible assessments (e.g., cumulative levels; diurnal patterns), considering one or a few at a time hampers understanding and interpretation. Moreover, most studies of cortisol regulation focus on negatively-valanced experiences. This study examined the inter-correlations among cortisol indices and their relative contribution to the explained variance in diverse psychosocial and health factors, including positive functioning. METHODS: Data are from midlife and older adults (N = 513; 47.2% male). Cortisol was assessed in urine (overnight) and saliva (at rest and over 4 consecutive days). Positive and negative psychosocial and health factors were assessed by self-report. In addition to examining associations among cortisol indices, relative weight analysis was used to determine which indices were most robustly linked to specific psychosocial factors. RESULTS: Inter-correlations among indices were weak-to-moderate, suggesting that they measure different aspects of hypothalamic-pituitary-axis activity. Overall variance in psychosocial and health factors (R2) explained by the cortisol indices ranged from 0.01 to 0.07. Of this explained variance, relative weight analysis showed that waking cortisol contributed most to the variance in hedonic well-being (32.1%-38.2%), bedtime cortisol to depression-related factors (32.1%-46.9%), the cortisol awakening response to eudaimonic well-being (35.8%-50.5%), cortisol slope to perceived stress (29.2%), and urinary cortisol to physical factors (38.5% and 62.7%). CONCLUSIONS: Positive and negative factors were related to largely non-overlapping cortisol indices. This study illuminates nuanced associations among cortisol indices and diverse aspects of mental and physical health, facilitating thoughtful examination of the complex role of hypothalamic-pituitary-axis activity in health.
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