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We have evaluated the relationship between activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and adult height in adults recruited from the UK Hertfordshire Cohort Study. In a sample of 1,354 individuals, we found that height fell by 0.67 cm (95% CI 0.34-1.0) per SD (114 nmol/l) increase in fasting plasma cortisol concentrations. The association was continuous across the range of cortisol concentrations and was independent of the levels of corticosteroid binding globulin. It was of similar magnitude in men and women. In a subsample of the study available data on standing and sitting height was used to estimate trunk and leg length. Fasting plasma cortisol concentrations were found to have a much greater impact on leg length than trunk length. These findings suggest that physiological variations in adrenocortical glucocorticoid secretion in humans affect adult height. They also raise the possibility that the HPA axis may be involved in mediating resource allocation decisions and trade-offs during development perhaps by limiting physical growth to enable other competing processes.

Original publication




Journal article


Am j hum biol

Publication Date





712 - 715


Aged, Body Height, Cohort Studies, Female, Human Development, Humans, Hydrocortisone, Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System, Leg, Male, Middle Aged, United Kingdom