While epidemiological studies provide statistical evidence on associations of exposures such as stressful work with elevated risks of stress-related disorders (e.g., coronary heart disease or depression), additional information on biological pathways and biomarkers underlying these associations is required. In this contribution, we summarize the current state of the art on research findings linking stressful work, in terms of an established theoretical model—effort-reward imbalance—with a broad range of biomarkers. Based on structured electronic literature search and recent available systematic reviews, our synthesis of findings indicates that associations of work stress with heart rate variability, altered blood lipids, and risk of metabolic syndrome are rather consistent and robust. Significant relationships with blood pressure, heart rate, altered immune function and inflammation, cortisol release, and haemostatic biomarkers were also observed, but due to conflicting findings additional data will be needed to reach a firm conclusion. This narrative review of empirical evidence supports the argument that the biomarkers under study can act as mediators of epidemiologically established associations of work stress, as measured by effort–reward imbalance, with incident stress-related disorders.
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