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No Effect of 5-Day Treatment with Acetylsalicylic Acid (Aspirin) or the Beta-Blocker Propranolol (Inderal) on Free Cortisol Responses to Acute Psychosocial Stress: A Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled StudyKudielka B.M.a · Fischer J.E.b · Metzenthin P.c · Helfricht S.d · Preckel D.d · von Känel R.e
aDepartment of Theoretical and Clinical Psychobiology, Graduate School of Psychobiology, University of Trier, Trier, bDepartment of Public Health, Social and Preventive Medicine, Mannheim Medical Faculty, University of Heidelberg, Mannheim, Germany; cDepartment of Health, Bern University of Applied Sciences, Bern, dInstitute for Behavioral Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zürich, and eDepartment of General Internal Medicine, Division of Psychosomatic Medicine, Inselspital, Bern University Hospital, and University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Background: The characterization of an individual’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis stress response is a main research topic in neuropsychobiology since alterations have been causally linked to several disease states. Over the last years, several studies focused on the identification of sources of inter- and intraindividual variability, but there is still a paucity of experimental data on the effect of different pharmaceuticals on cortisol responses to acute psychological stress. Therefore, in this randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study, we investigated the effect of treatment with two popular and clinically used pharmaceuticals on stress-related cortisol responses, namely acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), a known prostaglandin synthesis inhibitor, and the beta-blocker propranolol (Inderal), a nonselective beta-receptor antagonist. Methods: For 5 days, 73 healthy subjects (50 men, 23 women; mean age 47.3 ± 7.7 years) received either a daily oral dose of 100 mg aspirin, 80 mg propranolol (Inderal), aspirin + propranolol, or placebo. After treatment, subjects were confronted with the Trier Social Stress Test, a widely-used standardized psychosocial stress protocol. Cortisol responses were measured by six saliva samples taken before and after the stress exposure. Results: Subjects showed a significant cortisol increase after stress (p < 0.0001). The four treatment groups did not differ in their cortisol responses (group effect p > 0.44; interaction p > 0.97). Additionally, controlling for gender, age, smoking status, body mass index, mean arterial blood pressure or pre-stress cortisol levels yielded similar results in the total sample as well as in the male or female subgroups, respectively. Conclusion: Neither short-term treatment with aspirin nor propranolol altered the acute free cortisol response to psychological stress in healthy adults.
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