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Pediatr Res. 1995 Apr;37(4 Pt 1):502-6.

Salivary cortisol levels throughout childhood and adolescence: relation with age, pubertal stage, and weight.

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Department Pediatric Endocrinology, Children's Hospital, University of Munich, Federal Republic of Germany.


The measurement of cortisol in saliva has become a reliable tool for both the scientist and the clinician for studying adrenal cortical function in the adult. We have measured salivary cortisol in samples from 138 healthy infants, children, and adolescents, and from 14 adults. Saliva samples were obtained at home using a cotton swab and a saliva-collecting tube at 800, 1300, and 1800 h before meals. Cortisol was measured using a time-resolved fluorescent immunoassay. Cortisol levels in saliva ranged from less than 2 nmol/L up to more than 100 nmol/L. Cortisol levels were age-dependent. Interestingly, after the age of 6 y, cortisol levels correlated significantly with pubertal stages (analysis of variance). No sex difference was found. In addition, cortisol morning levels and daily cortisol levels (area under the curve from three measurements) increased with body weight and body mass index. The highest cortisol levels were measured in saliva of children younger than 1 y. No circadian variation was evident before the age of 9 mo. After 1 y of age, salivary cortisol levels varied in a circadian fashion. The measurement of salivary cortisol levels is an attractive way of testing adrenal function in infants and children. It provides a reliable tool for the determination of the physiology and developmental characteristics of cortisol metabolism.

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