Objectives To discuss methodological issues related to using salivary biomarkers to evaluate response to a stress management intervention.
Method Findings from a study which utilised salivary biomarkers to evaluate group responses to a stress management program are discussed.
In that study, we measured responses to qigong practice as a stress intervention among 34 healthy adults.
Results Specific biomarkers studied were a stress hormone (cortisol); a surrogate marker co-released with acute stress (alpha amylase); and a marker of early physiological response to stress i.e. immune status as reflected by immunoglobulin A (IgA).
Salivary cortisol and IgA were monitored over 10 weeks in the intervention group (n = 18) and the control group (n = 16).
Median salivary cortisol concentrations (nmol/l) at weeks 1, 6 and 10 were 4.4, 4.8, 4.3 and 4.3, 4.0, 3.3 for the control and intervention groups. Median IgA secretion rates (μg/min) were 58.9, 63.6 and 67.4 for the control group and 43.8, 54.9 and 72.9 for the intervention group.
Acute response to qigong practice, measured by median salivary alpha amylase (U/ml) showed no significant change before and after a one hour session of practice (107.7 and 93.8).
Saliva collection technique, circadian rhythm and half-life of the biomarkers, and their relative concentrations in different body compartments e.g. blood and saliva, can affect the results and were taken into account in the study protocol.
Conclusions For valid interpretation of study findings, the choice of biological markers and other methodological issues have to be considered when using salivary biomarkers to evaluate response to a stress management intervention.
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