Life events induce stress, which is considered to negatively impact the course of disease in patients with bipolar disorder (BD), its effects being predominantly mediated by cortisol. Cortisol in scalp hair has been identified as a biomarker for assessing long-term cortisol levels, and allows clarifying the relation between life events, hair cortisol concentrations (HCC), and clinical course over time. In 71 BD patients, we analyzed the proximal 3 cm of hair, reflecting 3 months of cortisol production, and investigated the association between HCC, the number of life events, the amount of social support, and mood in the 3 months prior to the hair assessment and between HCC and mood in the subsequent 3 months. Although the total number of life events was not associated with HCC (p >0.05), the number of negative life events was associated with increased HCC (r2 = 0.04, p = 0.02). Social support showed an inverse association with HCC in patients reporting negative life events (r2 = 0.07, p = 0.03). HCC and mood were not associated in the 3 months prior to hair sampling or in the subsequent 3 months. This study indicates that patients who experienced recent negative life events have increased hair cortisol levels, which seem to be attenuated by social support.

Cortisol, Hair, HPA axis, Life events, Long-term cortisol, Mental disorder, Mood, Social support,
Department of Internal Medicine

Staufenbiel, S.M, Koenders, M.A, Giltay, E.J, Elzinga, M.J, Manenschijn, L, Hoencamp, E, … Spijker, A.T. (2014). Recent negative life events increase hair cortisol concentrations in patients with bipolar disorder. Stress, 17(6), 451–459. doi:10.3109/10253890.2014.968549