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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Sep;35(8):1156-66. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.02.001. Epub 2010 Mar 1.

Child care setting affects salivary cortisol and antibody secretion in young children.

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Department of Human Development, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Elevated afternoon levels of cortisol have been found repeatedly in children during child care. However, it is unclear whether these elevations have any consequences. Because physiologic stress systems and the immune system are functionally linked, we examined the relationship between salivary cortisol concentration and antibody secretion across the day at home and in child care, and their relationships with parent-reported illnesses. Salivary antibody provides a critical line of defense against pathogens entering via the mouth, but little is known about its diurnal rhythm in young children or the effect of different environmental contexts. Saliva samples were taken at approximately 10:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on two child care and two home days in a sample of 65 3-5-year-old children attending very high quality, full time child care centers. Results indicated that (1) a rising cortisol profile at child care, driven by higher afternoon levels, predicted lower antibody levels on the subsequent weekend, (2) higher cortisol on weekend days was related to greater parent-reported illness, and (3) a declining daily pattern in sIgA was evident on weekend and child care days for older preschoolers, but only on weekend days for younger preschoolers. The results suggest that elevated cortisol in children during child care may be related to both lowered antibody levels and greater illness frequency.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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