Entries in cortisol (8)


How Do Romantic Relationships Get Under The Skin? Perceived Partner Responsiveness Predicts Cortisol Profiles 10 Years Later

If someone asked me to pick the most influential finding that has come out of relationship science to date, I’d say it’s this: relationships matter for health. In 1988, House and colleagues published their classic research paper showing that social isolation is a powerful predictor of premature death.1 Since then, dozens of studies have tested and consistently replicated this link. Indeed, a recent meta-analysis of 148 studies (over 300,000 participants!) showed that people with stronger social relationships are about 50% more likely to survive over a 7.5 year period compared to those with weak social ties.2 This is a huge effect: it suggests that social isolation is more dangerous than a number of well-established risk factors of mortality, such as obesity and physical inactivity.

In response to these findings, many policy-makers, health practitioners, and members of the general public have started viewing social relationships not just as a nice-to-have, but as a fundamental human need. Humans simply must have close relationships in order to survive and thrive (for a more theoretical discussion about the human need for relationships, see this post). However, the issue of how relationships affect health is not as well-understood. What aspects of social relationships are particularly important (i.e., specificity), and in what way do social relationships influence the body (i.e., mechanism)? These sorts of questions about specificity and mechanism are what many researchers in the field are now grappling with.

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Stress and Resolving Disagreements Immediately: Relationship Matters Podcast 42

In this first installment of the Winter/Spring 2015 season of SAGE's “Relationship Matters” podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College), Dr. Kira Birditt (University of Michigan) discusses how resolving disagreements (or not) affects individuals’ daily stress hormone production.

Briefly, cortisol -- popularly referred to as the “stress hormone” -- helps regulate our daily sleep-wake cycles and also helps us react appropriately to stressful situations. When the cortisol system is functioning optimally, the hormone peaks about thirty minutes after waking time (to help us become alert for the day) and then generally falls throughout the day, culminating at its lowest point before bedtime. Chronically elevated daily levels of cortisol are generally associated with negative health outcomes. 

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(Mother’s) Milk: It Does a Body Good and Bad?

We are what we eat, but are we also what we drink? When it comes to breast-feeding infants, we very well may be. Researchers are increasingly studying the links between the early environment of a child’s life and later life outcomes for that child, with a particular focus on how mom’s biology and behavior can influence the way that children ultimately respond to stress (which has enormous implications for health across the lifespan). In a recent study, researchers tested what they refer to as “lactational programming,” which is fancy science talk for the idea that a mom can influence her child’s biological development, for better or worse, through her breastmilk. Think of it as secondhand hormones – if mom experiences stress, she’ll have higher levels of stress hormones, some of which will be passed along to her breastfeeding infant. And because infants’ bodily systems are still developing, those secondhand hormones influence the infants’ own biology and behavior.

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Your Relationships May Keep Stress From Killing You

Read more about stress, health, and relationships in our articles here and here.

Paging Dr. Love

The legendary rockers of the American band KISS may not have been so far off when they belted out, “Baby, I know what your problem is...the first step of the cure is a kiss!” in their hit single, “Calling Dr. Love.” They couldn’t have known it at the time, but current relationship scientists may now agree with Gene Simmons’ medical claims. There might be a little something special to that kiss.

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When Stress Hits, Call Your Mother. Don’t Text, Talk to Her. Really.

You’ve had a crappy day. Maybe your boss yelled at you, you forgot to pay the mortgage, or you lost your keys. When life stresses you out, sometimes you need your momma. After all, how many times have you heard your mom say how nice it is to hear your voice? But recent research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that it may be you that benefits from hearing your mother’s voice.

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Love Sick?

Several years ago, I read a journal article in which the researchers reported that individuals who had recently fallen in love had higher levels of cortisol than did individuals in long-term relationships or those in no relationship at all. Importantly, high levels of cortisol can eventually weaken the immune system and undermine physical health. Admittedly, this finding baffled me. If chronically high levels of cortisol can be bad for health, then how does that explain the overwhelmingly positive impression people have of being passionately in love? I’ve yet to find a Valentine’s Day card that reads, “I love you so much that you make me susceptible to pneumonia.”

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Co-Sleeping with Infants Reduces Their Stress Reactions

Researchers assessed infants’ cortisol following a routine (but often distressing) bath at 5 weeks of age to determine whether sleeping arrangements affect how infants manage stress. Infants who co-slept, spending at least half the night in the same room with their moms (most were not in the same bed), had lower cortisol after bathing than did infants who slept in their own rooms. Other variables (e.g., breastfeeding, maternal responsiveness) did not account for the results.

Tollenaar, M. S., Beijers, R., Jansen, J., Riksen-Walraven, J. M. A., & de Weerth, C. (2012). Solitary sleeping in young infants is associated with heightened cortisol reactivity to a bathing session but not to a vaccination. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37, 167-177.

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