Adrenal hormone response and psychophysiological correlates under psychosocial stress in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome.
ABSTRACT In this study, we investigated levels and relative ratios of adrenal hormones (including cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone [DHEA], and DHEA-sulfate [DHEA-S]) and their psychophysiological correlates under acute psychosocial stress in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Fifty-three college students participated in the study (male: 42, female: 11; mean age: 22.64years), including 13 individuals with IBS (IBS group) and 40 individuals without IBS (control group). The participants were exposed to a standardized laboratory stressor, which included delivering a speech and performing a mental arithmetic task. We measured subjective stress levels and salivary cortisol, DHEA, and DHEA-S levels at relevant time points before, during, and after the tasks.
DHEA-S level and the DHEA-S/DHEA ratio in the IBS group were significantly lower than those in the control group, and the cortisol/DHEA-S ratio in the IBS group was higher than that in the control group throughout the experiment. In the IBS group, the appraisal of a threat was positively correlated with cortisol levels (r=0.61), and the appraisal of controllability was negatively correlated with cortisol levels (r=-0.64) and with the cortisol/DHEA ratio (r=-0.71). The control group showed a significant positive correlation between the appraisal of threat and cortisol levels (r=0.32).
The present study indicates that individuals with IBS had lower DHEA-S levels, and that their stressful cognitive appraisals under acute psychosocial stress caused the effects of cortisol to dominate. This adrenal hormone response may be involved in exacerbating abdominal symptoms in individuals with IBS.