Hair cortisol as a biomarker of stress in mindfulness training for smokers.


OBJECTIVES: Stress is a well-known predictor of smoking relapse, and cortisol is a primary biomarker of stress. The current pilot study examined changes in levels of cortisol in hair within the context of two time-intensity matched behavioral smoking cessation treatments: mindfulness training for smokers and a cognitive-behavioral comparison group. PARTICIPANTS: Eighteen participants were recruited from a larger randomized controlled trial of smoking cessation. OUTCOME MEASURES: Hair samples (3 cm) were obtained 1 month after quit attempt, allowing for a retrospective analysis of hair cortisol at preintervention and post-quit attempt time periods. Self-reported negative affect was also assessed before and after treatment. INTERVENTION: Both groups received a 7-week intensive intervention using mindfulness or cognitive-behavioral strategies. RESULTS: Cortisol significantly decreased from baseline to 1 month after quit attempt in the entire sample (d=-0.35; p=.005). In subsequent repeated-measures analysis of variance models, time by group and time by quit status interaction effects were not significant. However, post hoc paired t tests yielded significant pre-post effects among those randomly assigned to the mindfulness condition (d=-0.48; p=.018) and in those abstinent at post-test (d=-0.41; p=.004). Decreased hair cortisol correlated with reduced negative affect (r=.60; p=.011). CONCLUSIONS: These preliminary findings suggest that smoking cessation intervention is associated with decreased hair cortisol levels and that reduced hair cortisol may be specifically associated with mindfulness training and smoking abstinence. RESULTS support the use of hair cortisol as a novel objective biomarker in future research.





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Publication Info

Goldberg, Simon B, Alison R Manley, Stevens S Smith, Jeffrey M Greeson, Evan Russell, Stan Van Uum, Gideon Koren, James M Davis, et al. (2014). Hair cortisol as a biomarker of stress in mindfulness training for smokers. J Altern Complement Med, 20(8). pp. 630–634. 10.1089/acm.2014.0080 Retrieved from

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James Davis

Associate Professor of Medicine

Dr. James Davis is a practicing physician of Internal Medicine, and serves as the Medical Director for Duke Center for Smoking Cessation, Director of the Duke Smoking Cessation Program and Co-Director of the Duke-UNC Tobacco Treatment Specialist Credentialing Program.  His research focuses on development of new pharmaceutical treatments for smoking cessation.  He is principal investigator on several trials including a study on “adaptive” smoking cessation and several trials on new medications for smoking cessation. The new medications leverage more novel neurobiological mechanisms - NMDA receptor antagonism, nicotinic receptor antagonism, which impact addiction-based learning and cue response. Additionally, Dr. Davis serves as co-investigator on trials on lung cancer screening, e-cigarettes, minor nicotine alkaloids, imaging trials, lung function trials and others. Dr. Davis leads the Duke Smoke-Free Policy Initiative, is co-author on a national  tobacco dependence treatment guideline, and provides training in tobacco dependence treatment for the Duke School of Medicine, Duke Internal Medicine, Family Practice and Psychiatry residency programs.

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