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Stress Hormones Underlie Indigenous Health Gap

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James Cook University scientists have found that secretion of the stress hormone cortisol is impaired in young Indigenous adults, and that their biological stress response is linked to the racial discrimination they experience.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, showed for the first time that the morning increase of cortisol that prepares us to effectively deal with the stresses of the upcoming day is missing in otherwise healthy young Indigenous adults.

Prof Zoltan Sarnyai of JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine explained that cortisol concentration in the blood should be within a certain range. “Too little or too much of it is dangerous for health,” he said. “We can’t tell why it is low in this case.

“One possible explanation is that previous stress, early traumatic events or even traumas of the past generation may have impaired the negative feedback system, so the brain and the body feel as if there is too much cortisol around. So it shuts off its own cortisol production after awakening.”

The absence of the morning cortisol rise was related to the levels of chronic stress the participants had experienced. Patients with common and severe mental disorders, including depression and psychotic disorders, are similarly missing such a morning rise.

The study’s first author, Dr Maximus Berger, said there is...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.