Sociodemographic, lifestyle, and psychosocial determinants of hair cortisol – Evidence from a south London community sample

Research output: Other contribution


Background: Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) measures are crucial for research into psychosocial stress and its consequences. Compared to conventional parameters, hair cortisol concentrations (HCC) are less susceptible to the influence of state confounders. However, less is known about trait-like confounders. The aim of this study was 1) to investigate whether psychosocial stress was reflected in altered HCC, and 2) to identify confounders of this relationship.

Methods: Hair samples were collected from 144 individuals of the South East London Community Health (SELCoH) study. Childhood trauma and life events were measured, together with age, sex, ethnicity, relationship status, educational attainment, employment status, profession, hair washing frequency, hair treatments, season reflected in the hair sample, alcohol intake, smoking, medication intake, and Body Mass Index. Samples reflecting the past 3 months were collected and analysed using immunoassays.

Results: Age (p = .050), White British ethnicity (p = .023), and heat-based treatments (p = .010) were associated with lower HCC, whereas autumn season (p = .001), painkillers (p = 003), anxiolytics/antidepressants (p = .014), and hormonal contraceptives (p = .006) were associated with higher HCC. Controlling for these confounders, physical neglect during childhood (p = .055), war-related experiences (p = .014), separation (p = .071), and being the victim of a serious crime (p = .063) were linked with altered HCC.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that variation in HCC occurs according to sociodemographic, hair-related, and lifestyle variables. Provided this is replicated, future research into psychosocial stress and its consequences using HCC is advised to adjust for these confounders.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Place of PublicationPsychoneuroendocrinology
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016


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