Exercise intensity and its impact on relationships between salivary immunoglobulin A, saliva flow rate and plasma cortisol concentration

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2018 Jun;118(6):1179-1187. doi: 10.1007/s00421-018-3847-6. Epub 2018 Apr 7.


Introduction: Salivary secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), saliva flow rate and plasma cortisol concentrations have been shown to be influenced by exercise, particularly the intensity exercise is performed at, and circadian variation. The autonomic nervous system partly regulates salivary secretion, but it is not yet known whether cortisol also explains some variation in salivary parameters.

Methods: Twelve moderately trained male individuals ([Formula: see text]peak legs: 46.2 ± 6.8 mL·kg-1·min-1) performed three 45-min constant load exercise trials in the morning: arm cranking exercise at 60%[Formula: see text]peak arms; moderate cycling at 60%[Formula: see text]peak legs; and easy cycling at 60%[Formula: see text]peak arms. Timed saliva samples and blood samples for plasma cortisol concentration determination were obtained before, post, 2 h post, and 4 h post-exercise. Saliva was collected in an additional resting trial at the same time points.

Results: At each time point for each exercise trial, negative correlations between cortisol and saliva flow rate (explaining 25 ± 17% of the variance, R2 = 0.002-0.46) and positive correlations between cortisol and sIgA concentration (explaining 8 ± 8% of the variance R2 = 0.002-0.24) were found. Saliva flow rate increased over time, whereas sIgA concentration and cortisol decreased over time for all trials (P < 0.05), there was no effect of time for sIgA secretion rate (P = 0.16).

Conclusion: These results show a relationship between cortisol and saliva flow rate, which directly impacts on the concentration of salivary analytes. This study further confirms circadian variations in salivary parameters which must be acknowledged when standardising salivary data collection.

Keywords: Exercise intensity; Exercise modality; Mucosal immune function; Salivary secretory immunoglobulin A; Upper body exercise.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Immunoglobulin A / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Random Allocation
  • Saliva / metabolism*
  • Salivation*


  • Immunoglobulin A
  • Hydrocortisone