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Stress. 2019 Oct 3:1-31. doi: 10.1080/10253890.2019.1675629. [Epub ahead of print]

Salivary Cortisol responses to acute stress vary between allergic and healthy individuals: The role of plasma oxytocin, emotion regulation strategies, reported stress and anxiety.

Author information

1
Comparative Medicine, The Interuniversity Messerli Research Institute of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Medical University Vienna and University Vienna , Vienna , Austria.
2
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Medical University of Vienna ; Division of Clinical Psychology at the Medical Directorate of the Vienna General Hospital - Vienna Medical Campus , Vienna , Austria.
3
Department of Child and Adolescent Medicine, Medical University Vienna , Austria.
4
Institute of Pathophysiology and Allergy Research, Center of Pathophysiology, Infectiology and Immunology, Medical University of Vienna , Vienna , Austria.
5
AllergyCare, Allergy Diagnosis and Study Center , Vienna , Austria.
6
Department of Applied Psychology: Health, Development, Enhancement and Intervention, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna , Austria.
7
Outpatient Unit for Research, Teaching and Practice, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna , Vienna , Austria.
8
Unit of Physiology, Pathophysiology und experimental Endocrinology, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna , Vienna , Austria.

Abstract

Numerous studies have demonstrated that acute psychological stress, induced by the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) paradigm, affects salivary cortisol secretion and self-reported stress measures including anxiety. Allergy has been related to altered cortisol responsiveness and increased stress vulnerability. Here, we investigated acute stress responses and emotion regulation strategies in cohorts of allergic and healthy individuals. Groups of allergics and healthy individuals were subjected to the TSST and experienced levels of stress and anxiety as well as emotion regulation strategies were assessed. Cortisol and oxytocin concentrations were measured in saliva or plasma. The present findings confirm earlier results of altered stress responsiveness in allergic individuals. Acute stress by the TSST evoked higher physiological arousal in allergics by means of salivary cortisol secretion. Allergics also scored higher on emotion suppression. However, individuals who were more likely to use reappraisal recovered more efficiently from the cortisol increase. No such effect for reappraisal was found in the healthy population. No differences in self-reported anxiety and stress emerged between the groups. Plasma oxytocin levels prior to the TSST were significantly higher in allergics. Our data corroborate earlier findings on altered stress susceptibility in allergics. Moreover, we identified differences in emotion regulation and oxytocin secretion which should be further explored. Accounting for the emerging global prevalence of allergy, more in-depth research into the experience of stress, coping strategies and stress-related molecules in allergic people is warranted. Short summary: This study addressed stress experiences and emotion regulation in allergic and non-allergic adults. Allergics scored higher on emotion suppression, had higher pre-stress concentrations of plasma oxytocin and exhibited a stronger salivary cortisol response to stress than healthy people. The research outcomes indicate that allergic individuals cope less efficiently with acute stress but may benefit from adaptive emotion regulation strategies such as reappraisal.

KEYWORDS:

Allergy; Cortisol; Emotion regulation; Emotion suppression; Oxytocin; Reappraisal; Stress

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