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Diurnal cortisol and mental well-being in middle and older age: evidence from four cohort studies

12 Oct 2017


We conducted an individual participant meta-analysis to test the hypothesis that cortisol patterns indicative of dysregulated hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis functioning would be prospectively associated with poorer well-being at follow-up.


Four large UK-based cohort studies.


Those providing valid salivary or serum cortisol samples (n=7515 for morning cortisol; n=1612 for cortisol awakening response) at baseline (age 44–82) and well-being data on the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale at follow-up (0–8 years) were included.


Well-being was not associated with morning cortisol, diurnal slope or awakening response though a borderline association with evening cortisol was found. Adjusting for sex and follow-up time, each 1 SD increase in evening cortisol was associated with a –0.47 (95% CI –1.00 to 0.05) point lower well-being. This was attenuated by adjustment for body mass index, smoking and socioeconomic position. Between-study heterogeneity was low.


This study does not support the hypothesis that diurnal cortisol is prospectively associated with well-being up to 8 years later. However, replication in prospective studies with cortisol samples over multiple days is required.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open

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