Lennartsson AK, Theorell T, Kushnir MM, Bergquist J, Jonsdottir IH
Psychoneuroendocrinology 38 (9) 1650-1657 [2013-09-00; online 2013-02-18]
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) have been suggested to play a protective role during acute psychosocial stress, because they act as antagonists to the effects of the stress hormone cortisol. This study aims to investigate whether prolonged psychosocial stress, measured as perceived stress at work during the past week, is related to the capacity to produce DHEA and DHEA-S during acute psychosocial stress. It also aims to investigate whether prolonged perceived stress affects the balance between production of cortisol and DHEA-S during acute psychosocial stress. Thirty-six healthy subjects (19 men and 17 women, mean age 37 years, SD 5 years), were included. Perceived stress at work during the past week was measured by using the Stress-Energy (SE) Questionnaire. The participants were divided into three groups based on their mean scores; Low stress, Medium stress and High stress. The participants underwent the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and blood samples were collected before, directly after the stress test, and after 30 min of recovery. General Linear Models were used to investigate if the Medium stress group and the High stress group differ regarding stress response compared to the Low stress group. Higher perceived stress at work was associated with attenuated DHEA-S response during acute psychosocial stress. Furthermore, the ratio between the cortisol production and the DHEA-S production during the acute stress test were higher in individuals reporting higher perceived stress at work compared to individuals reporting low perceived stress at work. There was no statistical difference in DHEA response between the groups. This study shows that prolonged stress, measured as perceived stress at work during the past week, seems to negatively affect the capacity to produce DHEA-S during acute stress. Given the protective functions of DHEA-S, attenuated DHEA-S production during acute stress may lead to higher risk for adverse effects on psychological and physiological health, particularly if stress exposure continues.