Lifetime exposure to violence and other life stressors and hair cortisol concentration in women

Rebekka Sigrún D Lynch*, Thor Aspelund, Matthías Kormáksson, Mario H. Flores-Torres, Arna Hauksdóttir, Filip K. Arnberg, Martín Lajous, Clemens Kirschbaum, Unnur Anna Valdimarsdóttir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Women are exposed to a variety of life stressors, particularly violence, during their lifetime which increases the risk of developing various psychiatric and somatic diseases, with the dysregulated secretion of cortisol as one potential biological mechanism. We examined the association between violence and other life stressors and hair cortisol concentration (HCC) in a population of urban women. We included 470 adult women (age = 21–86 years) attending the Cancer Detection Clinic in Iceland. The Life Stressor Checklist-Revised (LSC-R; 30-items) was used to assess exposure. HCC was measured with liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry. We used linear regression models to assess the association between life stressors and log-transformed HCC. The median HCC (pg/mg) in the study population was 4.9 (range 0.6–616.6). HCC was not associated with background covariates, including age (p = 0.868), education level (p = 0.824), marital status (p = 0.545), income (p = 0.363), occupation (p = 0.192), but associated with current smoking (p = 0.013). We noted a 3.3% (95% CI: 0.17–6.6%) associated increase in HCC per endorsed life stressor after adjusting for age and smoking, while non-violent life stressors were not associated with HCC. Per endorsed violence item, we observed a 10.2% (95% CI: 1.4–19.7%) associated increase in HCC after age and smoking adjustment. Women with lifetime exposure to both physical and sexual violence presented with higher HCC than unexposed women (p = 0.010), after age and smoking adjustment. Lifetime exposure to violence was associated with higher levels of HCC in a community sample of women. These findings need confirmation with prospective studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-56
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors R. Lynch, T. Aspelund, M. Kormáksson, M. Flores-Torres, A. Hauksdóttir, F. Arnberg, C. Kirscbaum, and U. Valdimarsdóttir reported no biomedical financial interests or potential conflicts of interest. M. Lajous received and investigator-initiated non-restricted grant from AstraZeneca.

Funding Information:
for data collection was supplied by a Grant of Excellence, Icelandic Research Fund (grant no. 163362-051) and an ERC Consolidator Grant (StressGene, grant no: 726413). Rebekka Lynch, M.D., is supported by a grant from the Icelandic Equality Fund (grant no. 1233-1232991), as well as EU Horizon2020 Grant (CoMorMent, grant no: 847776). The sponsors had no role in the interpretation of study results. The SAGA cohort pilot study was conducted in collaboration between the University of Iceland, the Icelandic Cancer Society, and deCODE Genetics. The study was also supported by multiple community/commercial grants, e.g. from Eirberg, Nova, N?i S?r?us, Actavis, Landsbanki Community Fund, Arion Bank?s Staff Association, The Tinnitus Foundation, and Landspitali. We further wish to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of our research nurses (Elsa Bj?rnsd?ttir, J?na Ellen Valdimarsd?ttir, ?ur??ur Anna Gu?nad?ttir), other research staff (Hildur Gu?n? ?sgeirsd?ttir, Hrafnhildur Eymundsd?ttir, and ??runn Gu?mundsd?ttir), and the participating women.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Other keywords

  • cortisol
  • gender
  • hair cortisol
  • life stressor
  • Violence
  • violence against women


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