Salivary cortisol: a better measure of adrenal cortical function than serum cortisol

Ann Clin Biochem. 1983 Nov:20 (Pt 6):329-35. doi: 10.1177/000456328302000601.


Salivary cortisol concentration was found to be directly proportional to the serum unbound cortisol concentration both in normal men and women and in women with elevated cortisol-binding globulin (CBG). The correlation was excellent in dynamic tests of adrenal function (dexamethasone suppression, ACTH stimulation), in normals and patients with adrenal insufficiency, in tests of circadian variation and randomly collected samples. Women in the third trimester of normal pregnancy exhibited elevated salivary cortisol throughout the day. The relationship between salivary and serum total cortisol concentration was markedly non-linear with a more rapid increase in salivary concentration once the serum CBG was saturated. The rate of equilibrium of cortisol between blood and saliva was very fast, being much less than 5 minutes. These data, combined with a simple, stress-free, non-invasive collection procedure, lead us to suggest that salivary cortisol is a more appropriate measure for the clinical assessment of adrenocortical function than is serum cortisol.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex / physiology*
  • Adrenal Cortex Function Tests / methods
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Adult
  • Carrier Proteins / blood
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Dexamethasone
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / administration & dosage
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third
  • Pregnancy*
  • Saliva / metabolism*
  • Sex Factors


  • Carrier Proteins
  • cortisol binding globulin
  • Dexamethasone
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone