The potential of using hair cortisol to measure chronic stress in occupational healthcare; a scoping review

Frederieke G. Schaafsma, Gerben Hulsegge, Merel A. de Jong, Joyce Overvliet, Elisabeth F. C. van Rossum, Karen Nieuwenhuijsen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


OBJECTIVES: Workplace-based selective prevention of mental health problems currently relies on subjective evaluation of stress complaints. Hair cortisol captures chronic stress responses and could be a promising biomarker for the early identification of mental health problems. The objective was to provide an overview of the state-of-the-art knowledge on the practical value of hair cortisol in the occupational setting. METHODS: We performed a scoping review of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies in PubMed, Embase, and PsycINFO up to November 2019 assessing the relations of hair cortisol with work-related stressors, perceived stress, and mental health outcomes in healthy workers. RESULTS: We found five longitudinal studies, of which two observed an increase in work-related stressors to be associated with higher hair cortisol, one found a relation with lower hair cortisol and one did not find a relationship. Findings of cross-sectional studies were also mixed. The one available longitudinal study regarding mental health showed that hair cortisol was not related to depressive symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: Hair cortisol measurement within occupational health research is still in its early stage and more longitudinal studies are urgently needed to clarify its relationship with work-related stressors and perceived stress before hair cortisol can be used to identify workers at risk for mental health problems.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12189
Pages (from-to)e12189
JournalJournal of Occupational Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021

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