Diurnal salivary cortisol profiles are valuable indicators of adrenocortical functioning in epidemiological research and clinical practice. However, normative reference values derived from a large number of participants and across a wide age range are still missing. To fill this gap, data were compiled from 15 independently conducted field studies with a total of 104,623 salivary cortisol samples obtained from 18,698 unselected individuals (mean age: 48.3 years, age range: 0.5–98.5 years, 39% females). Besides providing a descriptive analysis of the complete dataset, we also performed mixed-effects growth curve modeling of diurnal salivary cortisol (i.e., 1–16 h after awakening). Cortisol decreased significantly across the day and was influenced by both, age and sex. Intriguingly, we also found a pronounced impact of sampling season with elevated diurnal cortisol in spring and decreased levels in autumn. However, the majority of variance was accounted for by between-participant and between-study variance components. Based on these analyses, reference ranges (LC/MS–MS calibrated) for cortisol concentrations in saliva were derived for different times across the day, with more specific reference ranges generated for males and females in different age categories. This integrative summary provides important reference values on salivary cortisol to aid basic scientists and clinicians in interpreting deviations from the normal diurnal cycle.
- Netherlands Twin Register (NTR)