Physical violence against women by male partners disrupts cortisol levels, a key steroid hormone that opens the door potentially to a variety of negative health effects, according to a study by the University of Oregon and the Oregon Social Learning Center.
Researchers looked at daily fluctuations of cortisol levels in men and women and found that cortisol levels typically rise as people wake up, peak shortly thereafter and then decline rapidly. When they compared the cortisol levels with the frequency of interpersonal violence as reported by both partners in the relationships, they found a disruption from normal diurnal cortisol rhythms only in women as seen by a slower decline through the afternoons and higher-than-normal levels late in the day.
The study suggests that interpersonal violence is more detrimental to women and might indeed be due to disruptions in HPA-axis activity. Researchers are now looking at the women's dysregulated daily cortisol rhythms for connections to subsequent physical and psychological outcomes to confirm a gender specific vulnerability to interpersonal violence in relationships.
The study is published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.