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Alcohol Use, Urinary Cortisol, and Heart Rate Variability in Apparently Healthy Men

Alcoholism and heavy drinking are associated with a number of physiological, behavioral, affective, and cognitive problems. One such problem involves dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, with alcoholics exhibiting higher basal cortisol levels and decreased inhibitory feedback control. In addition, alcohol consumption is associated with decreased heart rate variability (HRV).

In the present study, we examined the relationships between alcohol consumption, cortisol excretion, and HRV in 542 apparently healthy men. Men in the top tertile of self-reported alcohol consumption had higher cortisol levels and lower HRV compared with men in the bottom two tertiles of alcohol consumption. Moreover, the inverse relationship between cortisol and HRV was strongly attenuated in the heavy drinking group, even after accounting for a number of potential confounders.

These findings support previous research on HPA axis dysregulation in alcoholics and suggest impaired inhibitory control of the HPA axis in heavy drinkers. The findings are consistent with the neurovisceral integration model linking central and peripheral processes and may provide a comprehensive framework for future investigation of the complex mix of physiological, behavioral, affective, and cognitive factors that comprise the heavy drinking phenotype.

Int J Psychophysiol.: Alcohol Use, Urinary Cortisol, and Heart Rate Variability in Apparently Healthy Men: Evidence for Impaired Inhibitory Control of the HPA Axis in Heavy Drinkers

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