Cortisol and anxiety and depressive problems – results from TRAILS

PredSL PI Catharina Hartman contributed to  a study – that was published today in Psychoneuroendocrinology – on the relationship between anxiety and depressive problems and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis activity (cortisol in the morning). The study was executed in children from the TRAILS study, a general population and clinic-referred cohort.

Anxiety and depressive problems have often been related to higher hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis activity (basal morning cortisol levels and cortisol awakening response [CAR]) and externalizing problems to lower HPA-axis activity. However, associations appear weaker and more inconsistent than initially assumed. Previous studies from TRAILS suggested sex-differences in these relationships and differential associations with specific dimensions of depressive problems in a general population sample of children (10-12 years). Using the TRAILS population sample (n=1604), the authors found most support for higher cortisol (mainly CAR) in relation to depressive problems. However, in general, associations were weak. Therefore, the present results shed doubt on the relevance of single day cortisol measurements for problem behaviors in the milder range. Associations may be stronger in more severe or persistent psychopathology.

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