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Women Handle Stress Better than Men

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ScienceDaily: Can people's differing reactions to situations of stress be attributed at least in part to genetic differences and do those differences affect men and women in different ways - with the edge seemingly favoring the women? Research conducted at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem would seem to indicate that the answer to both questions is yes.

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Some people appear to be resilient to difficult conditions, whereas others react adversely to such challenges, incurring a range of physical and mental disorders. Much research has shown that the way in which the brain and body adapt to acute and chronic stress are critical for physical and mental health. Further, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), stress will be the second leading cause of mortality worldwide over the next 20 years.

It is generally believed that the genetic code plays a prominent role in different responses to stress. It has been estimated that the heredity factor determines by some 62 percent the level of the stress hormone (cortisol) in our bodies. However, only a handful of investigations so far have documented the role of specific genetic variants on shaping the stress response among individuals.

In an effort to reveal a genetic basis for coping with stress, the Hebrew University researchers devised a laboratory-based social stress test. The trials were carried out on students at the Hebrew University Department of Psychology and at the Aaron Beare Research Laboratories at Herzog Hospital by Idan Shalev, a doctoral student of Hebrew University Psychology Prof. Richard Ebstein, and in collaboration with Dr. Marsha Kaitz of the Department of Psychology. The results were published recently online in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

In the test, the researchers examined the salivary cortisol response in 97 university students via the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) devised at Trier University in Germany. The TSST measures changes in salivary cortisol to assess stress reactivity to challenging social situations.

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