Hair cortisol levels can measure cognitive health

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In a recent study, increased hair cortisol levels were effective at measuring worsened cognitive health in perimenopausal women.

Hair cortisol levels can measure cognitive health | Image Credit: © BillionPhotos.com - © BillionPhotos.com - stock.adobe.com.

Hair cortisol levels can measure cognitive health | Image Credit: © BillionPhotos.com - © BillionPhotos.com - stock.adobe.com.

Increased cortisol levels in the saliva and hair may be associated with cognitive and mental health in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women, according to data highlighted at The Menopause Society 2023 Annual Conference.

Takeaways

  • Increased cortisol levels in saliva and hair may be linked to cognitive and mental health issues in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women.
  • Stress can elevate cortisol levels, which may lead to various health conditions, including cognitive problems and depression symptoms.
  • A study involving 43 women in late perimenopause or postmenopause found that higher hair cortisol levels were associated with reduced attention and working memory performance.
  • Salivary cortisol levels were linked to worse depressive symptom severity, but not to cognitive factors such as verbal memory or attention.
  • The findings suggest that assessing cortisol levels in hair and saliva can provide insights into cognitive and mental health in menopausal women, potentially helping identify individuals at higher risk for depression and cognitive decline.

Stress has been associated with multiple adverse effects on the body and mind, leading to various health conditions. Some of these conditions are caused by increased cortisol levels in the endocrine system because of stress.

Investigators conducted a study to determine the impact of stress on depression symptom severity and cognitive performance by evaluating hair and salivary cortisol levels. Cognitive factors assessed include attention, verbal memory, verbal learning, and working memory.

Forty-three women in late perimenopause or postmenopause were included in the analysis. A significant association was found between higher levels of hair cortisol and reduced attention and working memory performance in these patients.

A significant association was not found between levels of hair cortisol and verbal memory recall trials, attention, or working memory performance. However, worse depressive symptom severity was reported in women with higher levels of salivary cortisol.

These results indicatedmarkers of hypothalamic-pituitary-axis (HPA) activation that capture total cortisol secretion such as hair cortisol are significantly associated with cognitive performance on attention and working memory performance, while measures of acute cortisol such as saliva cortisol are significantly associated with depression symptom severity.

Christina Metcalf, PhD, Assistant Professor and lead author from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, concluded this evidence links longer-term HPA activation to decreased attention and memory in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. 

Metcalf plans to conduct future research to determine whether decreasing HPA activation with interventions can improve executive function during perimenopause.

“This study, although small in size, provides insight into considering HPA activity when evaluating a patient’s cognitive and mental health,” said Stephanie Faubion, MD, MBA, medical director of The Menopause Society. “This may be helpful in the future to identify patients who may be at higher risk for depression and cognitive decline.”

Reference

What your hair and saliva say about your risk for depression and cognitive shortfalls during menopause. The Menopause Society. September 27, 2023. Accessed October 3, 2023. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/1002626

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