Exposure to the Indian Ocean Tsunami shapes the HPA-axis resulting in HPA “burnout” 14 years later

Tuesday, 17-10-2023SurveyMETERRalph Lawton, Elizabeth Frankenberg, Teresa Seeman, Eileen Crimmins, Cecep Sumantri, and Duncan Thomas

Despite significant research on the effects of stress on the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis, questions remain regarding long-term impacts of large-scale stressors. Leveraging data on exposure to an unanticipated major natural disaster, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, we provide causal evidence of its imprint on hair cortisol levels fourteen years later. Data are drawn from the Study of the Tsunami Aftermath and Recovery, a population-representative longitudinal study of tsunami survivors who were living along the coast of Aceh, Indonesia, when the tsunami hit. Annual rounds of data, collected before, the year after and 2 y after the disaster provide detailed information about tsunami exposures and self-reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Hair samples collected 14 y after the tsunami from a sample of adult participants provide measures of cortisol levels, integrated over several months. Hair cortisol concentrations are substantially and significantly lower among females who were living, at the time of the tsunami, in communities directly damaged by the tsunami, in comparison with similar females living in other, nearby communities. Differences among males are small and not significant. Cortisol concentrations are lowest among those females living in damaged communities who reported elevated post-traumatic stress symptoms persistently for two years after the tsunami, indicating that the negative effects of exposure were largest for them. Low cortisol is also associated with contemporaneous reports of poor self-rated general and psychosocial health. Taken together, the evidence points to dysregulation in the HPA axis and “burnout” among these females fourteen years after exposure to the disaster.

For complete details, visit the paper link on the following journal site The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS):