In the Sacramento area, the local University of California, Davis studies stress and cortisol levels. See the UC Davis magazine article by Pat Bailey, “Creature Discomforts,” and also the article, “Low cortisol levels found in kids whose mothers show signs of depression.”
A University of California study of young children living in extreme poverty found that those whose mothers showed symptoms of depression had low levels of cortisol, a hormone activated during times of stress, compared with children whose mothers did not exhibit depressive symptoms.
The researchers say the blunted cortisol levels they found in some children may indicate an adaptive response to chronic stress on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system, which is responsible for producing hormones that help our bodies respond to stressful situations.
Hair test shows link between chronic stress and heart attack in Canadian study
According to a September 3, 2010 EurekAlert! news release, “Hair provides proof of the link between chronic stress and heart attack,” researchers at The University of Western Ontario have provided the first direct evidence using a biological marker, to show chronic stress plays an important role in heart attacks.
Cortisol is a corticosteroid hormone pumped out by the adrenal glands as part of a body’s fight-or-flight response to stress. It raises blood pressure and blood sugar levels to help with quick bursts of energy, and is naturally found at higher levels in the early morning, declining to its lowest point at bedtime.
How Hair Provides Proof of the Link Between Chronic Stress and Heart Attack
According to the Sept 3, 2010 news release, “Hair provides proof of the link between chronic stress and heart attack,” stressors such as job, marital and financial problems have been linked to the increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease including heart attack. But there hasn’t been a biological marker found in the past to measure chronic stress.
In this new study, Drs. Gideon Koren and Stan Van Uum developed a method to measure cortisol levels in hair providing an accurate assessment of stress levels in the months prior to an acute event such as a heart attack. The research is published on-line in the journal Stress. Read the study, “Elevated content of cortisol in hair of patients with severe chronic pain: A novel biomarker for stress: Short communication.”
Cortisol is considered to be a stress hormone. Its secretion is increased during times of stress. Traditionally it’s been measured in serum, urine and saliva, but that only shows stress at the time of measurement, not over longer periods of time. Cortisol is also captured in the hair shaft.
“Intuitively we know stress is not good for you, but it’s not easy to measure,” explained Dr. Koren in the Sept. 3, 2010 news release. Dr. Koren holds the Ivey Chair in Molecular Toxicology at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “We know that on average, hair grows one centimetre (cm) a month, and so if we take a hair sample six cm long, we can determine stress levels for six months by measuring the cortisol level in the hair.”
Hair samples tested for chronic stress chemicals and hormones
In the study, hair samples three cm long were collected from 56 male adults who were admitted to the Meir Medical Centre in Kfar-Saba, Israel suffering heart attacks. A control group, made up of 56 male patients who were hospitalized for reasons other than a heart attack, was also asked for hair samples. Higher hair cortisol levels corresponding to the previous three months were found in the heart attack patients compared to the control group.
The prevalence of diabetes, hypertension, smoking and family history of coronary artery disease did not differ significantly between the two groups, although the heart attack group had more cholesterol problems. After accounting for the known risk factors, hair cortisol content emerged as the strongest predictor of heart attack.
“Stress is a serious part of modern life affecting many areas of health and life,” says Dr. Koren. “This study has implications for research and for practice, as stress can be managed with lifestyle changes and psychotherapy.” The study was supported by Physician Services Inc. and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Also see the article, “Maternal prenatal stress and cortisol reactivity to stressors in human infants.”