Differences in urinary stress hormones in male and female nurses at different ages


R. Deane School of Chemical and Life Sciences, University of Greenwich, Woolwich Campus, Wellington Street, London SE18 6PF, UK. E-mail: r.deane@greenwich.ac.uk


Differences in urinary stress hormones in male and female nurses at different ages

Aim. The aim of this study was to assess the levels of urinary stress hormones in male and female nurses and to determine their contribution to sex-determined health outcomes.

Rationale/background. While the use of questionnaires have shown that there is a high degree of stress in health care workers, these results are inconclusive. In this study a more objective approach was used by assessing the levels of urinary stress hormones, adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. In premenopausal women oestrogen may attenuate sympathetic nervous system activity and the secretion of adrenaline and cortisol and therefore lower the stress response and incidence of stress-related illnesses.

Methods. Three hundred and fifteen nurses of both sexes were separated into two age groups, 20–40 and 45–60 years, and for postmenopausal women into those taking or not taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Early morning urine sample were collected and stress hormones determined by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC).

Results. Urinary cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline levels were all increased with age in both sexes, with a greater difference in the younger age group compared with the older group. These hormones were lower in premenopausal women compared with male nurses of similar age. The difference between the sexes in the high age group was less compared with the lower one. Postmenopausal women on HRT had lower levels of these hormones.

Conclusion. The age-related changes were surprising but may be because of higher stress levels in the older groups of both sexes. However, the gender difference supports the view that oestrogen reduces sympathetic activity and the secretion of cortisol and adrenaline. HRT reduces the stress response and therefore may have additional benefits by reducing the level of stress-related illnesses. These results were surprising but may suggest that oestrogen reduces the stress response in women and therefore offers protection against stress-related disorders.