Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin have found that high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, combined with low levels of testosterone, can be a key predictor of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) risk among male soldiers, according to new research published in the scientific journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
As many as one in five soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have developed PTSD symptoms since 2001, so research on prevention and treatment of the disease is critically important.
Research was first conducted into a possible link between cortisol and PTSD in the 1980s, but subsequent research was inconclusive and the link was eventually put on the back burner. What the researchers at the University of Texas discovered was the combination of cortisol and testosterone as a potential indicator.
Robert Josephs, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas and one of the researchers involved, said “”Recent evidence points to testosterone’s suppression of cortisol activity, and vice versa. It is becoming clear to many researchers that you can’t understand the effects of one without simultaneously monitoring the activity of the other.”
Professor Josephs also had a theory as to why thirty years of previous research into the link between cortisol and PTSD had been frustrated, saying, “Prior attempts to link PTSD to cortisol may have failed because the powerful effect that testosterone has on the hormonal regulation of stress was not taken into account.”
University of Texas doctoral student Adam Cobb cautioned that future research on PTSD risk would have to take into account hormonal links such as the cortisol-testosterone connection in his study. Specifically, he said “Advancement in this area must involve examining how hormones function together, and with other psychobiological systems, in response to ever-changing environmental demands.”
Researchers think the roadmap for future research is relatively clear. One possibility is testing preventative treatments on those with high-risk hormone levels. Michael Telch, a clinical psychology professor and co-author of the study, said one of his hopes is for this study is to “reveal additional insights into risk for combat-related stress disorders and ultimately how to prevent them.”
The research at the University of Texas is only a first step to identifying those at risk of PTSD and treating them successfully, but if they are on the right track, a potential preventative strategy may be on the way.
This article is based on a piece from ScienceDaily. It can be found here.