Social isolation and stress-related cardiovascular, lipid, and cortisol responses

Ann Behav Med. 2009 Feb;37(1):29-37. doi: 10.1007/s12160-009-9081-z. Epub 2009 Feb 5.


Background: Social support is a strong and consistent predictor of health outcomes, and social isolation predicts increased morbidity and mortality. The mediating processes are not completely understood.

Purpose: The purpose of the study is to investigate associations between social isolation and cardiovascular and lipid responses to acute stress in the laboratory, and cortisol profiles over the day.

Methods: Cardiovascular and lipid responses to acute stress tasks, and salivary cortisol monitoring, were carried out in 238 healthy middle-aged men and women from the Whitehall II cohort. Social isolation was measured using an adapted version of the Close Persons Questionnaire.

Results: Social isolation was associated with slower post-task recovery of systolic blood pressure in men and women, a higher cholesterol response to stress in men only, and also with larger cortisol awakening responses and greater cortisol output over the day in both men and women.

Conclusions: The impact of social isolation on cardiovascular disease risk may be mediated through stress-related dysregulation of cardiovascular, metabolic, and neuroendocrine processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blood Pressure
  • Cardiovascular System / physiopathology*
  • Cholesterol / blood*
  • Cholesterol, HDL / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Social Isolation*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology


  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • Cholesterol
  • Hydrocortisone