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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004 Sep;29(8):1012-8.

Childhood parental loss and cortisol levels in adult men.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry & Neuropsychology/EURON, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands. n.nicolson@sp.unimaas.nl

Abstract

Although data from animal studies show that early rearing experiences can have lasting effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, little is known about the relationship between childhood parental loss and adult cortisol levels in humans. In the current study, 57 healthy adult men completed a telephone interview concerning parental loss or separations before age 17. Salivary cortisol measures, taken 10 times a day for 5 days in the daily environment, were available from an earlier study. Nine subjects had experienced the death of a parent during childhood. Compared to levels in 38 subjects who had experienced neither loss nor a separation > two weeks, parental loss by death was associated with higher cortisol throughout the day (F(1,44) = 4.73, p = 0.035). Men who had lost a parent scored no higher than those with no loss or separation on trait anxiety or current depressive symptoms, and the effect of parental loss on cortisol remained significant after controlling for these variables. Cortisol patterns in men who had been temporarily separated from one or both parents (n = 10) were inconsistent. Limitations include a lack of systematic information concerning the quality of care after parental death and other forms of childhood adversity. The sample was too small to assess effects of maternal vs. paternal loss or age at loss. Results suggest that parental death during childhood may have lasting effects on the HPA axis, even in the absence of psychopathology.

PMID:
15219652
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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