Cortisol awakening response and acute stress reactivity in first Nations people

Maximus Berger, Anthony Leicht, Angela Slatcher, Ann Katrin Kraeuter, Sarangan Ketheesan, Sarah Larkins, Zoltán Sarnyai*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


First Nations people globally have a higher incidence of mental disorders and non-communicable diseases. These health inequalities are partially attributed to a complex network of social and environmental factors which likely converge on chronic psychosocial stress. We hypothesized that alterations in stress processing and the regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis might underlie health disparities in First Nations people. We assessed the cortisol awakening response and the dynamic response to a laboratory induced psychosocial stress of young Indigenous tertiary students (n = 11, mean age 23.82 years) and non-Indigenous students (n = 11) matched for age and gender. Indigenous participants had a blunted cortisol awakening response (27.40 (SD 35.00) vs. 95.24 (SD 55.23), p = 0.002), which was differentially associated with chronic experience of stress in Indigenous (r = -0.641, p = 0.046) and non-Indigenous (r = 0.652, p = 0.03) participants. The cortisol response to the laboratory induced psychosocial stress did not differ between groups. Self-reported racial discrimination was strongly associated with flattened cortisol response to stress (r = -0676, p = 0.022) and with heart rate variability (r = 0.654, p = 0.040). Our findings provide insight into potential biological factors underlying health discrepancies in ethnic minority groups.

Original languageEnglish
Article number41760
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date31 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes


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