Social isolation and diurnal cortisol patterns in an ageing cohort

Mai Stafford, Mike Gardner, Meena Kumari, Diana Kuh, Yoav Ben-Shlomo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Social isolation may operate as a psychosocial stressor which disrupts functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis.

METHODS: Using data from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development, we tested whether living alone, not being married and social network size were associated with diurnal cortisol patterns at 60-64 years. We hypothesised that recent onset compared with long-term isolation would be more strongly associated with cortisol awakening response, cortisol decline over the day and evening cortisol. Models were adjusted for sex, smoking, body mass index, alcohol intake, psychological distress and financial difficulties.

RESULTS: Those widowed within the last three years had a 36% (95%CI 6%, 73%) higher night time cortisol than those who were currently married. Those newly living alone also had a higher night time cortisol and flatter diurnal slope than those living with others.

CONCLUSION: Independently of multiple behavioural and psychosocial correlates, recent onset of social isolation is related to diurnal cortisol patterns that increase the risk of morbidity and mortality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2737-45
Number of pages9
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.


  • Aging/metabolism
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone/metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Saliva/metabolism
  • Social Isolation
  • Time Factors


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