Reductions in Cortisol Associated With Primary Care Brief Mindfulness Program for Veterans With PTSD

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Patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have significant medical morbidity, which may be mediated by hypothalamic pituitary axis (HPA) dysfunction and reflected in cortisol output. Many veterans with PTSD are hesitant to engage in trauma-focused exposure treatments; therefore briefer, non–exposure-based treatments are needed; one such promising approach is an abbreviated Primary Care brief Mindfulness Program (PCbMP).


This study investigated the relationship between dose-response to participation in a veterans PCbMP program and diurnal cortisol. Cortisol reflects HPA function and PTSD is associated with HPA dysregulation.

Research Design:

Veterans with PTSD were identified in PC and randomly assigned to treatment as usual (TAU, n=21) or participation in brief 4-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program (n=19).


Veterans (n=40) (mean age, 48±16 y; 90% men) with PTSD referred through their VA PC provider and randomly assigned to PCbMP or TAU.


As an objective indicator of HPA function, salivary diurnal cortisol was measured from samples collected across 2 consecutive days at baseline and follow-up.


Analyses revealed that significant changes in cortisol were associated with PCbMP treatment engagement and dosing (number of mindfulness program sessions completed). Veterans completing 4 mindfulness-based meditation sessions significantly reduced their cortisol awakening response (P≤0.05); and had significant changes in cortisol area under the curve increase compared with TAU participants (P≤0.05). Results indicate that PCbMP has a beneficial physiological impact on veterans with PTSD with a minimum of 4 weeks of practice.

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