Publication: Hair cortisol concentrations in a Spanish sample of healthy adults.
Hair cortisol concentration (HCC), as a novel promising method to retrospectively measure hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activation, is being increasingly studied. We tested the relationships between HCC and a range of possible confounding variables in a Spanish sample of healthy adults and pregnant women. The number of healthy adults who participated in the study was 529, being 270 males and 259 females, with a combined mean age of 37.88 years (SD = 15.66). Additionally, a separate sample of 62 pregnant women was also recruited with a mean age of 32.95 (SD = 3.67), and in the first trimester of pregnancy. Each participant was interviewed before the study to obtain sociodemographic and lifestyle variables, and a hair sample was taken from the posterior vertex of the head, cut as close to the scalp as possible. Assuming the average growth rate of head hair is 1 cm per month, a 3-cm segment was analysed, in order to measure the cortisol concentrations from a three-month period. For the pregnant women, hair samples for each trimester of pregnancy were analysed. The mean hair cortisol concentration was 127.91 (111.52) pg/mg for the general sample. The variables of age, education, employment status, use of hair dyes, use of oral contraceptives, and physical exercise had a significant relation to HCC. When adjusted for further variables, only education and physical exercise remained statistically significant. When including the use of oral contraceptives and only with respect to females, only physical exercise remains statistically significant. For the subsample of pregnant woman, the mean hair cortisol concentration was 334.51 (409.77) pg/mg for the first trimester, 302.18 (270.24) pg/mg for the second trimester, and 331.31 (295.46) pg/mg for the third trimester of pregnancy. None of the assessed confounding variables (age, body mass index, previous miscarriages, employment status, hair dyes, dependent children and physical exercise), except education level, was related to HCC. In this sample of healthy Spaniards, results suggested an association between HCC and physical exercise and educational level. In pregnant women, the prevalence of HCC was higher than in non-pregnant woman, and was related to educational level. This study emphasises the need to determine the relationship between HCC and confounders such as sociodemographic and lifestyle variables in the general population and specific groups formed by individuals such as pregnant women.