Yale Study Shows Treatment Can Lower Stress Hormone In War Refugees

Jan 11, 2018

A new study suggests that stress-reduction treatment for adolescents who've been through war can change their biology for the better.

Victims of trauma often see a spike in the stress hormone cortisol, which can make them overly nervous or vigilant.

Researchers at Yale University and elsewhere partnered with a humanitarian organization to see whether mental health treatment for adolescent war refugees from Syria would reduce their cortisol levels.

Yale anthropology professor Catherine Panter-Brick said they analyzed hair samples over a year, before and after the eight-week intervention.

"This is a pretty unique way of investigating whether interventions really matter for the development of young people, and we did find that the intervention regulated and reduced cortisol levels by a third," she said.

That also corresponded to what the teens wrote in surveys about their mental state.

"You want to make sure the impact you're perceiving is real," said study co-author Rana Dajani, a biology professor from Hashemite University in Jordan. "So you could better develop your program, so you know where it works, and for whom it works better."

The researchers said the clinical trial also found that some traumatized teens whose cortisol levels were too low -- making them under-responsive to their environment -- saw an increase in the hormone after treatment.