Socioeconomic and psychosocial factors have been found to be associated with systemic inflammation. Although stress is often proposed as a contributor to these associations, no population studies have investigated the links between inflammation and biomarkers of stress. The current study examines associations between daily cortisol profiles and inflammatory markers interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-10 (IL-10), and tumor necrosis factor (TNF-a) in a population-based sample of 869 adults with repeat measures of cortisol over multiple days. Persons with higher levels of IL-6 had a less pronounced cortisol awakening response, a less steep daily decline, and higher cortisol area under the curve for the day with associations persisting after controls for risk factors and other cytokines. Persons with higher levels of TNF-a had lower cortisol levels upon waking, and flatter daily decline, although associations with decline were attenuated when controlling for inflammatory risk factors. Higher levels of IL-10 were associated with marginally flatter daily cortisol decline (p<.10). This study is the first to identify associations of basal cortisol activity and inflammatory markers in a population based sample. Findings are consistent with the possibility that HPA axis activity may mediate associations between psychosocial stressors and inflammatory processes. Additional prospective data are necessary to clarify the directionality of associations between cortisol and inflammatory markers.
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