Many of us have felt that stress was causing us to lose our hair, but a recent study shows that the amount of stress one has experienced can actually be measured in our hair and can be correlated with heart attack risk.
Lead researcher Gideon Koran, professor of pediatric medicine and toxicology at University of Western Ontario, had been studying hair samples of children whose mothers had used cocaine and heroin while pregnant. Fellow researchers measured cortisone levels in the hair samples of body builders who used steroids. Koran began to think that if cortisone from drug use could be measured in hair, then couldn’t cortisone from the results of stress be detected the same way. (1)
The study, printed in the online issue of Stress magazine, tested 56 males who were admitted to Meir Medical Center in Israel for acute myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) and 56 control patients admitted for other medical conditions.
Hair grows approximately 1 cm a month so the researchers tested the 3 cm of hair that had grown closest to the scalp to correlate with the most recent 3 months of stress exposure. Gideon says, “Hair (can) tell me what happened to you in the last 10 months.”
After controlling statistically for other risk factors, such as cholesterol levels, “We demonstrated that elevated hair cortisone concentrations in patients with AMI (acute myocardial infarction). This suggests that chronic stress, as assessed by increased hair cortisol in the 3 months prior to the event, may be a contributing factor for AMI.” (2) Only men were tested in this study because it was felt that hormone difference in men and women could affect the results.
While cortisol levels are not the only factor that may predict risk of heart attacks, “it could be an non-invasive way to measure stress over time,” Kideon said.
Another study reported on sciencedaily.com also showed that cortisone levels can be useful in diagnosis. Dr Laura Manenschijn and her team in The Netherlands collected hair samples of patients with Cushings syndrome, a disease where the adrenals in the body produce too much cortisone causing long term chronic health problems. In their study, they also found they could accurately track higher levels of cortisol in the hair of the Cushings syndrome patients as compared against the hair samples of those without the disease. (3)
Researcher Dr Laura Manenschijn said: "We have suspected for a while that cortisol may be implicated in the development of many common conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and depression. However, until now, doctors have not been able to accurately measure cortisol exposure over the long-term and so research into this has been limited.” (3)
Since cortisol levels have traditionally been tested using saliva and blood the fact that it could be accurately monitored using this new, non-invasive technique might provide a new way to increase early detection and monitoring of many medical conditions.
1. Hair Gives a Heads-Up On Heart Attack Risk
2. Hair cortisol and the risk for acute myocardial infarction in adult men. Stress, The International Journal on the Biology of Stress, 2010;
3. New Method to Measure Cortisol Could Lead to Better Understanding of Development of Common Diseases
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles
Edited by Shannon Koehle