Measuring short-term and long-term physiological stress effects by cortisol reactivity in saliva and hair

Berry J van Holland, Monique H W Frings-Dresen, Judith K Sluiter

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PURPOSE: The aims of this study were to investigate (1) the concurrent relationship between short-term and long-term stress reactivity measured by cortisol excretion and (2) the relationship of these physiological stress effects with self-reported stress and need for recovery after work (NFR).

METHODS: Participants were production workers in the meat-processing industry. Short-term cortisol excretion was calculated by summing 18 saliva samples, sampled over a 3-day period. Samples were delivered by 37 participants. Twenty-nine of them also supplied one hair sample of at least 3 cm in length for an analysis of long-term (3 months) cortisol excretion. All of them filled in a short questionnaire on self-reported stress and NFR. Self-reported stress was assessed by a three-item stress screener; NFR was assessed by an 11-item scale.

RESULTS: Short-term and long-term cortisol excretion are significantly, but moderately, associated (r = 0.41, P = 0.03). Short-term and long-term cortisol excretion correlated weakly to self-reported stress and NFR (correlations varied from -0.04 to 0.21).

CONCLUSIONS: Short-term and long-term physiological stress excretion levels are moderately associated. Physiological stress effects assessed from saliva and hair cannot be used interchangeably with self-reported stress because they only correlate weakly. To better predict long-term cortisol excretion in workers, the predictive value of short-term cortisol excretion must be evaluated in a prognostic longitudinal study in a working population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)849-52
Number of pages4
JournalInternational Archives of Occupational & Environmental Health
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Nov-2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Adult
  • Biological Markers
  • Female
  • Hair
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Male
  • Meat-Packing Industry
  • Middle Aged
  • Rest
  • Saliva
  • Self Report
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Time Factors

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