Training & Resources
07.19.2017 - Childhood maltreatment affects cortisol and alpha-amylase stress reactivity
Author: Mielock AS, et al. (2017), Journal of Affective Disorders
Patterns of cortisol and alpha-amylase reactivity to psychosocial stress in maltreated women
BACKGROUND: Childhood maltreatment can trigger enduring changes in major stress response systems, particularly in the context of major depressive disorder (MDD). However, the relative impact of maltreatment versus MDD on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and sympathetic-adrenal-medullary system stress reactivity is not well understood.
METHOD: This study examined salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase responses to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) in 26 maltreated (15 with current MDD) and 26 non-maltreated (17 with current MDD) women.
RESULTS: Maltreated women showed greater anticipatory cortisol reactivity during the TSST protocol compared to non-maltreated women. Maltreated women also showed rapid deceleration in cortisol levels. Whereas non-maltreated women showed initial declines in alpha-amylase levels but rapidly increasing alpha-amylase levels during the TSST protocol, maltreated women did not exhibit changes in alpha-amylase levels during the TSST protocol. Contrary to expectation, MDD did not impact cortisol or alpha-amylase responses.
LIMITATIONS: The present study is limited by retrospective report of childhood maltreatment, cross-sectional design, and modest sample sizes.
CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that childhood maltreatment plays a greater role driving alterations in cortisol and alpha-amylase stress reactivity than MDD. Understanding the biological embedding of maltreatment is critical for elucidating mechanisms linking these experiences to risk for negative mental and physical health outcomes.
Keywords: Salivary cortisol, salivary alpha-amylase, maltreatment, stress reactivity, witnessing violence, women