Biomarkers of stress in behavioural medicine

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Abstract

Purpose of review

In recent years, a growing interest has emerged in behavioural medicine to examine the role of acute and chronic stress as a predisposing and contributing factor to physical health and illness. For a deeper understanding of these associations, research is in need of biological markers for alterations in biological stress systems. This review will summarize a selection of important recent findings in this area of research.

Recent findings

We will focus on essential peripheral stress-sensitive physiological systems, that is, the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, the autonomic nervous system, and the immune system. We will present findings on commonly used stress biomarkers (cortisol, alpha-amylase, pro-inflammatory cytokines) regarding alterations in basal activity and stress-dependent reactivity in these systems, and discuss selected findings on intervention-induced changes of these biomarkers.

Summary

This review will highlight new developments and guide readers in their choice of suitable study designs and outcomes in behavioural medicine. The reviewed studies included here encourage optimism that the employment of stress biomarkers in behavioural medicine has the potential to significantly improve our understanding of physical health and illness.

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