Although stress has often been linked to heart problems, a way to measure stress levels biologically had not been found, but now Gideon Koren and Stan Van Uum - through an Israeli-Canadian study - have developed a way of measuring cortisol levels in hair.
Cortisol secretion is increased when people are going through periods of stress. Although cortisol has been measured by testing urine and saliva, those tests cannot provide information on levels over a long period of time. Testing hair can do this.
“Intuitively we know stress is not good for you, but it’s not easy to measure,” Koren, who holds the Ivey Chair in Molecular Toxicology at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, said in a press release
“We know that on average, hair grows one centimetre a month, and so if we take a hair sample six centimetres long, we can determine stress levels for six months by measuring the cortisol level in the hair.”
The researchers took three-centimetre long hair samples from 56 adult males who were heart attacks patients at the Meir Medical Centre in Kfar-Saba, Israel. They also studied hair from 56 male patients who were in hospital for other reasons. They found higher cortisol levels in the men who had suffered heart attacks.
They said there was no significant difference in the prevalence of diabetes, hypertension, smoking or family history of coronary artery disease between the two groups.
“Stress is a serious part of modern life affecting many areas of health and life,” said Koren. “This study has implications for research and for practice, as stress can be managed with lifestyle changes and psychotherapy.”
The research is published online in the journal Stress