Date of Award

Winter 2017

Degree Type

Dissertation/Thesis

Faculty Advisor

Paul Burghardt

Abstract

Chronic stress is an ongoing and increasing harmful problem to millions of American’s today. Each year younger generations are increasingly being affected by stress. This chronic stress has been connected statistically to the increase in mental health problems among American’s especially younger generations. Stressors directly affect the equilibrium of bodily functions. When stress takes effect in the body, it stimulates the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal -axis and the sympathetic-adrenal-medullary system which increase the release of glucocorticoids and catecholamine. When there is chronic stress, both systems can deregulate and cause and overproduction or underproduction of the hormones. In the past, researchers have focused on the levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone released by the HPA-axis, through the collection of saliva, serum, or urine. There have been many connections made between cortisol levels and diseases, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Cortisol levels and chronic stress have also been linked to physical diseases such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and ulcers. Current research is focused on finding a better method of extracting cortisol from the human body, specifically the collection of hair cortisol. Hair cortisol provides several advantages over other methods and results in more consistent and valid data. As research continues, cortisol can be used as a biomarker for chronic stress and predictor of multiple diseases, both mental and physical.

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