Vol. 10, No. 4, 2004 Page 3&4


A hormone called dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) may play a powerful role in how well people cope with stress, according to a new study.

Charles Morgan et al. took blood and saliva samples from 25 men enrolled in a military survival school, testing the men before, during, and after they participated in the school's psychologically and physically grueling regimen. The soldiers also filled out surveys rating their levels of dissociation (an "out-of-touch" feeling associated with post-traumatic stress disorder).

The researchers found that soldiers with the highest ratio of DHEA-S to cortisol reported the fewest symptoms of dissociation, and exhibited the most superior military performance. Morgan and colleagues conclude, "These data provide prospective, empirical evidence that the DHEA-S level is increased by acute stress in healthy humans and that the DHEA-S-cortisol ratio may index the degree to which an individual is buffered against the negative effects of stress."

DHEA-S is secreted by the adrenal cortex. Levels are highest in young adults, declining to one-fifth of young- adult levels by age 80. Low levels of DHEA-S are tentatively linked to depression and memory loss.

Conversely, a high DHEA-S-to-cortisol level is sometimes associated with negative behaviors, according to other research. High plasma levels of DHEA-S and low levels of cortisol (or a decreased cortisol response to stress) have been linked to antisocial behavior in childhood, and Laure Buydens- Branchey and Mark Branchey recently reported that male adult cocaine addicts with a retrospective diagnosis of childhood conduct disorder had significantly higher DHEA-S levels, and secreted less cortisol when stressed, than addicts without a history of childhood conduct problems.


"Relationships among plasma dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate and cortisol levels, symptoms of dissociation, and objective performance in humans exposed to acute stress," C. A. Morgan III, S. Southwick, G. Hazlett, A. Rasmusson, G. Hoyt, Z. Zimolo, and D. Charney, Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 61, No. 8, Aug. 2004, 819-25. Address: Charles Morgan, National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Veterans Affairs New England Healthcare System, West Haven, CT 06516.

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"Cocaine addicts with conduct disorder are typified by decreased cortisol responsivity and high plasma levels of DHEA-S," L. Buydens-Branchey and M. Branchey, Neuropsychobiology, Vol. 50, No. 2, 2004, 161-6. Address: Laure Buydens-Branchey, New York Harbor Healthcare System, Brooklyn Campus, 800 Poly Place, Brooklyn, NY 11209.

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