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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011 Jul;36(6):816-23. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.11.003. Epub 2010 Dec 9.

Seasonal differences in the diurnal pattern of cortisol secretion in healthy participants and those with self-assessed seasonal affective disorder.

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Department of Psychology, University of Westminster, London, UK.


This study compared the daily pattern of free salivary cortisol secretion in winter and in summer between two groups; participants with self-assessed seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and age- and sex-matched healthy controls. Fifty-two participants completed the study with an equal number in each group. The diurnal pattern of cortisol secretion was assessed across two consecutive weekdays in summer, and two in winter, with conditions being counterbalanced. On each study day participants collected multiple saliva samples in the domestic setting to capture the cortisol awakening response (CAR) and declining levels across the day. In addition, perceived stress, anxiety, depression, state stress and state arousal were assessed using validated questionnaires. There was no evidence for any seasonal changes in psychological data or cortisol pattern for the healthy control population. In summer, self-assessed SAD and control participants had similar psychological and cortisol profiles. In winter however, SAD participants reported greater depression, stress and anxiety, and lower levels of arousal. Furthermore, the CAR was significantly attenuated in SAD participants during winter months. There was no difference in cortisol levels during the rest of the day between controls and SAD participants in winter. In line with the above findings and previous research, there was an inverse relationship between the increase in cortisol following awakening and a measure of seasonality in winter. Furthermore in winter, a general dysphoria construct correlated inversely with the CAR, indicating that participants reporting greater depression, stress and anxiety and lower arousal, exhibited lower CARs. In conclusion, during the shortened photoperiod in winter, the cortisol response to awakening is attenuated in participants with self-assessed SAD in comparison to controls. These findings contribute to the understanding of the physiology of SAD.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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