The Chemistry of Stress


The definition of stress is defined as pressure and force put on the body by outside matters. During my research I found that there are three kinds of stress: acute, chronic, and eustress. Acute stress is also known as fight or flight and eustress is a positive form a stress that benefits the mind and body. Chronic stress however, involves every day stressors that have negative effects on the mind and body. If not taken care of properly, chronic stress can turn into distress. Distress takes the side effects of chronic stress one step further where daily stomach pains, headaches, and chest pains are the result. Some physical symptoms of stress include ulcers, high blood pressure, arthritis, heart problems, and even skin conditions (i.e. acne). Symptoms pertaining to mental/emotional health include irritation, lack of focus, anxiety, and depression. This topic is of great importance to many people, including myself. Every day, I feel as though I must overcome a great deal of stressful tasks, from homework to family life. It is because of these reasons that I pursued to research the chemistry of stress.

Composition of ...


    • The Stressor
    • The Informational Processing and Perception of the Stressor
    • The Stress Response and Its Effect on Our System


    • Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
    • Cortisol

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

    • Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
      • C19H28O2
      • 288.424 g/mol
      • Melting point: 148.5 degrees Celcius or 299 degrees Farenheit

DHEA is a hormone located in the adrenal glands and is affiliated with stress because it has been shown to help chronic stress or those suffering from depression. When DHEA hormone levels increase, stress in the body decreases. It is the most common hormone in the body and oversees fifty other hormones. Discovered in the 1930’s, this abundant hormone went through the next fifty years being tested galore. The 1990’s brought about the biggest studies for dehydroepiandrosterone when it was concluded safe enough to sell at natural food stores for supplemental reasons. Many patients with adrenal imbalances are given DHEA in order to balance out any other possible hormonal problems.


    • Cortisol
      • C21H30O5
      • 362.460 g/mol
      • No available melting point

Similar to DHEA, Cortisol is a hormone found in the adrenal glands. Cortisol is secreted in the process of fight or flight which allows the body to think quickly and rationally. High levels of cortisol can cause chronic stress, which may lead to mutliple health problems. This hormone is also involved in the regulation of blood pressure, proper glucose metabolism, immune function, and inflammatory repsonse. In the 1930’s, Edward Kendall revealed that Cortisol, like DHEA, was located in the adrenal glands with six other common hormones in the body.

Chemistry's Role

DHEA and Cortisol

These naturally occurring hormones are composed of the elements: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The human body is made up the elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, chlorine, sulfur, and sodium. Therefore, it is no suprise that carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen make up DHEA and cortisol, just as they make up other hormones in the body. An adult human body, on average, contains 7 x 1027 atoms. The atomic ratios/percentages of the following elements are based off the average adult human where oxygen is twenty four, hydrogen: sixty two, and carbon is twelve. An atomic ratio/percentage is defined similarly to that of molar percentage or molar ratios. In other words, the percentage of one atom of a specific element relates to the overall amount of other atoms. These atoms can be an assortment of other elements or the same element. Therefore, the percentages of oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon are based off of their involvement in the body. For example, twenty four percent of the atoms in the human body are oxygen. Do not confuse this with the idea that oxygen makes up twenty four percent of the human body. The overal elemental percentage of the body is not the same as the over all atomic percentage of the body.

Background Research

Stress can be quite complex as it is both physical and mental. In any stressful situation there are three mental/emotional components: the stressor, the perception of the stressor, and the effect the stressor has on its system. To manage stress, one must first identify and remove the stressor. Next, change the way the stressor is percieved in oder to make it less threatening or compelling. Third, counteract the effects of the stress response. This simply means to change the way stress affects one by doing something fun, healthy, or relaxing. Stress works differently when it comes to the physical aspects. As mentioned previously, two hormones are heavily involved in the management and creation of stress: cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone. When cortisol is released in excess amounts, chronic stress takes place because the it prevents the body from recovering properly. DHEA oversees cortisol and in some ways is there to balance out any negative effects caused by excessive cortisol.


Provided the defintion of stress

Brief look at DHEA and Cortisol

Connections to mental and physical aspects

The way stress is developed on a mental level

Aow to manage mental stress

Acute stress and details

Chronic stress and details

Eustress and deatils

Mental symptoms brought about chronic stress

Like depression

Physical symptoms brought about chronic stress

Like arthritis

Study from ASU college students and their connection to stress

Used only for video

Specifics on DHEA

Chemical name

Molar weight

Melting point

Specifics on cortisol

Chemical name

Molar weight

Melting point (non-existant)

Explains what DHEA does in the body

For example, it oversees fifty other hormones

The history surrounding DHEA

Explaination that some people are given DHEA with hormonal imbalances

The damages of over production cortisol can cause the body to be restless

The history of cortisol

The chemical composition of DHEA and Cortisol

All the elements found in the body

Carbon, Nitrogen, and Oxygen’s roles in the body

Explaination of molar percentages and ratios

More specifically: oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon

About the Author

Madison Stromswold is currently a Junior at Billings Senior High School. She enjoys learning (as long as it is not stoichiometry), volunteering, shopping (excessively), spending time with friends and family, and sleeping in her free time. She takes great pleasure in being apart of Debate, Key Club, National Honors Society, Youth Leadership Billings, and Senior Advocate.