Hormone Levels Contribute To Stress Resilience
It is important to understand what
biological mechanisms contribute to
an individual's capacity to be resilient under conditions of extreme
stress, such as those regularly experienced by soldiers, police, and
firefighters. Researchers from Yale University and the VA National
Center for PTSD have worked closely with collaborators at the
Special Forces Underwater Warfare Operations Center to study
special operations soldiers enrolled in the military Combat Diver
Qualification Course (CDQC).
Dehydroepiandrosterone, commonly known as DHEA, is a hormone
that is secreted by the adrenal gland in response to stress. Although
medical scientists have known for over a decade that DHEA
provides beneficial, anti-stress effects in animals, they did not know
until now whether this was also true for humans.
The scientists completed psychological and hormone assessments
on a group of soldiers the day before they began the month-long
CDQC, and immediately after their final pass/fail exam engaged
in a highly stressful, nocturnal, underwater navigation exercise.
They found that soldiers with more DHEA performed better during
the final underwater navigation exam than those with less DHEA.
These findings are being published by Elsevier in the August 15th
issue of Biological Psychiatry.
Underwater navigation is a task that relies on an area of the brain
called the hippocampus that is very sensitive to the negative effects
of stress. "Laboratory studies have shown that DHEA buffers against
stress, in part, by modulating receptors in this region of the brain,"
explained the researchers. "These findings are important in
understanding why and how soldiers may differ in their ability to
tolerate stress and also raise the possibility that, in the future,
compounds like DHEA might be used to protect military personnel
from the negative impact of operational stress."
Clearly, additional research is still needed but these findings are
a step forward in the quest to help prevent or better treat the symptoms of stress-related disorders that these high-risk
Biological Psychiatry, Volume 66, Issue 4 (August 15, 2009)