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High Stress Hormone Levels linked to
Increased Cardiovascular Mortality
Newswise , September 2010— High levels of
the stress hormone cortisol strongly predict
cardiovascular death among both persons with
and without pre-existing cardiovascular
disease according to a new study accepted
for publication in The Endocrine Society’s Journal
of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).
In stressful situations, the body responds
by producing the hormone cortisol. The
effects of cortisol are intended to help the
body recover from stress and regain a status
of homeostasis, however chronically elevated
cortisol levels have been associated with
cardiovascular risk factors, such as the
metabolic syndrome and accelerated
“Previous studies have suggested that
cortisol might increase the risk of
cardiovascular mortality, but until now, no
study had directly tested this hypothesis,”
said Nicole Vogelzangs, PhD, of VU
University Medical Center in The Netherlands
and lead author of the study.
“The results of our study clearly show that
cortisol levels in a general older
population predict cardiovascular death, but
not other causes of mortality.”
In this study, researchers evaluated 861
people aged 65 years and older who
participated in a prospective cohort study.
Within six years of the beginning of the
study 183 participants had died. Urinary
cortisol levels of subjects were measured at
the beginning of the study and cause of
death was ascertained from death
Researchers found that urinary cortisol did not increase the risk of
non-cardiovascular mortality but did
increase cardiovascular mortality risk. The
third of the subjects with the highest
urinary cortisol had a five-fold increased
risk of dying of cardiovascular disease.
“Cortisol is an important component of the
stress system of the human body but in
higher concentrations can be harmful,” said
“Our study shows that older persons with
high levels of cortisol have an increased
risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
This finding significantly adds evidence to
the belief that cortisol can be damaging to
the cardiovascular system.”
Other researchers working on the study
include: Aartjan Beekman and Brenda Penninx
of VU University Medical Center in The
Netherlands; Yuri Milaneschi and Luigi
Ferrucci of the National Institute on Aging
in Baltimore, Md.; and Stefania Bandinelli
of Azienda Sanitaria Firenze in Italy.
The article, “Urinary cortisol and six-year
risk of all-cause and cardiovascular
mortality,” will appear in the November 2010
issue of JCEM.
Founded in 1916, The Endocrine Society is
the world’s oldest, largest and most active
organization devoted to research on hormones
and the clinical practice of endocrinology.
Today, The Endocrine Society’s membership
consists of over 14,000 scientists,
physicians, educators, nurses and students
in more than 100 countries. Society members
represent all basic, applied and clinical
interests in endocrinology. The Endocrine
Society is based in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
To learn more about the Society and the
field of endocrinology, visit our site at www.endo-society.org.