Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science



First Advisor

Brian Cohen




cortisol, levels, participants, group, perceived, response


Psychological stress is a common part in everyday life that directly affects the body through the nervous system and neuroendocrine hormones. A perceived stressor leads to the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and the synthesis and release of the glucocorticoid hormone cortisol from the adrenal cortex. Studies have linked the release of cortisol during high-stress periods to an increased intake of sugary and fatty foods, consistent with a suspected glucocorticoid-metabolic-brain- negative pathway, with high sugar consumption leading to lower stress and subsequently cortisol levels. In this study, undergraduate students’ diets were supplemented with either a high sugar drink or water for one week and then subjected to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). Subjects’ perceived stress was measured with the Revised Undergraduate Student Hassle Scale (RUSHs) in terms of academic, social, and personal categories, and saliva samples were collected pre and post TSST to analyze salivary cortisol levels using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). A consistent correlation was observed between sugar and water group participants’ perceived stress and baseline cortisol levels, along with statistically significant differences in perceived stress and cortisol response to the TSST. The results of this study indicate the need for specific stress-reduction interventions for college students to reduce unhealthy stress-induced changes in dietary habits.