Normal cortisol response to cold pressor test, but lower free thyroxine, after recovery from undernutrition

Vinicius J.B. Martins, Andrea P.O. Neves, Márcia C. Garcia, Regina C. Spadari, Ana Paula G. Clemente, Maria P. De Albuquerque, Daniel J. Hoffman, Ana L. Sawaya

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6 Scopus citations


Undernutrition is a stressor with long-term consequences, and the effect of nutritional recovery on cortisol and thyroid hormone status is unknown. To investigate basal thyroid hormones and the cortisol response to a cold pressor test in children recovered from undernutrition, a cross-sectional study was undertaken on children (6-16 years) separated into four groups: control (n 41), stunted (n 31), underweight (n 27) and recovered (n 31). Salivary cortisol was collected over the course of 10 h: upon awakening, before and after an unpleasant and a pleasant stimulus. Cortisol upon awakening was highest in the stunted and lowest in the underweight groups: control=5·05 (95 % CI 3·71, 6·89) nmol/l, stunted=6·62 (95 % CI 3·97, 11·02) nmol/l, underweight=2·51 (95 % CI 1·75, 3·63) nmol/l and recovered=3·46 (95 % CI 2·46, 4·90) nmol/l (P=0·005). Girls had higher cortisol concentrations upon awakening compared with boys (P=0·021). The undernourished groups showed an elevated cortisol response both to the unpleasant stimulus and at the last measurement (16.00 hours) compared with that of the recovered group: AUC, control=2·07 (95 % CI 1·69, 2·45) nmol/l×30 min, stunted=2·48 (95 % CI 1·91, 3·06) nmol/l×30 min, underweight=2·52 (95 % CI 2·07, 2·97) nmol/l×30 min, recovered=1·68 (95 % CI 1·26, 2·11) nmol/l×30 min (P=0·042); and control=2·03 (95 % CI 1·75, 2·39) nmol/l×30 min, stunted=2·51 (95 % CI 1·97, 3·19) nmol/l×30 min, underweight=2·61 (95 % CI 2·16, 3·16) nmol/l×30 min, recovered=1·70 (95 % CI 1·42, 2·03) nmol/l×30 min (P=0·009). Lower free thyroxine (T4) was found in the recovered and stunted groups: control=1·28 (95 % CI 1·18, 1·39) pmol/l, stunted=0·98 (95 % CI 0·87, 1·10) pmol/l, underweight=1·10 (95 % CI 1·01, 1·21) pmol/l and recovered=0·90 (95 % CI 0·83, 0·99) pmol/l (P<0·001). Multivariate analysis showed a lower cortisol concentration along 10 h (06.00-16.00 hours) in the recovered compared with the other groups (P=0·017), and similar concentrations between the recovered and control group. In conclusion, the children with recovery in weight and height had a cortisol stress response similar to control but a lower basal free T4. Longitudinal studies are warranted to determine the extent of these endocrine changes after recovery of undernutrition and in adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14-23
Number of pages10
JournalBritish Journal of Nutrition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 15 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


  • Cortisol stress response
  • Nutritional recovery
  • Thyroid status
  • Undernutrition


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