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

Simon B. Goldberg, Alison R. Manley, Stevens S. Smith, Jeffrey M. Greeson, Evan Russell, Stan Van Uum, Gideon Koren, James M. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


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 (3cm) 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)630-634
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Complementary and alternative medicine


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