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Salivary Cortisol Elevated with Family History of Depression

Cortisol levels higher in young adults with family history who are not depressed themselves

WEDNESDAY, April 11 (HealthDay News) -- Young adults who are not depressed but have a family history of depression have higher salivary cortisol levels than their peers without a family history, according to a report in the April issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. More study is needed to determine if salivary cortisol is a risk factor for depression, or affects health or cognitive function in such patients.

Philip J. Cowen, F.R.C.Psych., of the University of Oxford in the U.K., and colleagues measured waking cortisol levels on workdays and non-workdays in 49 people aged 17 to 21 with a family history of depression and 55 subjects without a personal or family depression history.

The researchers found that on workdays, participants with family histories of depression secreted a mean of 698 nmolxminutes/liter of cortisol, versus 550 for those without depression histories. On non-workdays, those with family depression histories secreted 633 nmolxminutes/liter, versus 492 for those without.

"Hypersecretion of cortisol can be detected in asymptomatic individuals at genetic risk of depression and may represent an illness endophenotype," the authors write. "Further studies will be needed to find out if increased waking salivary cortisol levels can predict individual risk of illness and whether the increased cortisol secretion has implications for general health and cognitive function."

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