Having high levels of cortisol at night-time could be a predictor of new-onset type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose metabolism, according to a new study.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone often referred to as the “stress hormone”. It can help control the body’s blood sugar levels, but prolonged, higher levels of cortisol are associated with negative health effects such as impaired cognitive performance.
In this study, researchers at University College London examined data from 3,270 healthy adults, of whom the average age was 61 years and mean BMI was 26.5 kg/m².
Six saliva samples were taken to measure cortisol levels at different times of the day: waking, 30 minutes, 2.5 hours, eight hours, 12 hours and bedtime. This was conducted between 2002 and 2004 (phase 7).
Patients who were normoglycemic were re-examined between 2012 and 2013 (phase 11). 6.4 per cent had new-onset type 2 diabetes, while 518 adults had impaired fasting glucose.
The researchers observed that raised evening cortisol during phase 7 was predictive of type 2 diabetes at phase 11. Participants with a flatter slope in cortisol levels during the day also had a higher incidence of type 2 diabetes.
However, the researchers did not find an association between cortisol levels upon waking and incident type 2 diabetes.
“It is plausible that neuroendocrine dysfunction is related to the pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes,” said the researchers. “But the precise mechanisms through which changes in cortisol secretion impairs glucose metabolism remain to be determined.”
The findings were published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

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