Cortisol features prominently in theories describing how chronic stress wears away at physical and cognitive health. The current study examines composite measures of physiological and cognitive functioning in relation to two aspects of daily cortisol: total daily output and change in levels throughout the day. Participants (N = 1001; aged 28–84 years-old) from the Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) study provided 4 daily saliva samples across four consecutive days and underwent a physical exam that provided information about six inter-related physiological systems that were combined into a measure of allostatic load. They also completed a phone-based battery of cognitive tasks, which provided a composite score combining memory, reasoning, and speed of processing performance. Total daily cortisol output was captured using area under the curve with respect to ground (AUCg). Change in cortisol levels was assessed using two methods: slope, calculated through piecewise spline models, and dynamic range, calculated by the difference between the day's highest and lowest log-cortisol levels. Findings indicate that, when examined together, overall cortisol output was not associated with either outcome, but a greater range in cortisol throughout the day was associated with both lower allostatic load and higher cognitive functioning. Results emphasize the importance of dynamic daily processes, assessed either using slopes or dynamic range, to both physiological and cognitive functioning.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry