Glucose but not protein or fat load amplifies the cortisol response to psychosocial stress

Horm Behav. 2002 May;41(3):328-33. doi: 10.1006/hbeh.2002.1766.


We previously reported that glucose intake amplifies cortisol response to psychosocial stress and smoking in healthy young men, while low blood glucose levels prevented the stress-induced activation of the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. However, it remains unknown whether this modulation is specific for glucose load or a more common effect of energy availability. To elucidate this question, 37 healthy men, who fasted for at least 8 h before the experiment, were randomly assigned to four experimental groups, who received glucose (n = 8), protein (n = 10), fat (n = 10), and water (n = 9), one h before their exposure to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). Blood glucose levels were measured at baseline and following stress, while salivary cortisol was assessed repeatedly measured before after the TSST. The results show that both absolute cortisol levels and net cortisol increase were greater in the glucose group in comparison to the other groups (F(3,33) = 3.00, P < 0.05 and F(3,33) = 3.08, P < 0.05, respectively. No group differences were observed with respect to perceived stress and mood. Furthermore, the cortisol response was positively correlated with blood glucose changes (r = 0.49, P < 0.002). In conclusion, the results suggest a central mechanism responsible for regulation of energy balance and HPA axis activation, rather than peripheral mechanisms. We thus recommend controlling for blood glucose levels when studying HPA axis responsiveness.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Glucose
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage*
  • Glucose / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / drug effects
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Male
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / drug effects
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*


  • Blood Glucose
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Glucose
  • Hydrocortisone