Scientists measure stress levels in hair!

(from Science Daily)

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.

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 to measure chronic stress. 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.

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,” explains Dr. Koren, who holds the Ivey Chair in Molecular Toxicology at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “We know that on average, hair grows one centimeter (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.”

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

Dr. Jonny Comments:

In my book, “The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer”, I identified four processes that age us, wearing our bodies down and contributing to every known degenerative disease. I call these the “Four Horsemen of Aging”, and one of them is stress.

We can’t eliminate stress from our lives, nor would we want to. Some stress is actually good for us, helping us to adapt and strengthening our immune system. (This kind of stress is called “eustress” to distinguish it from the kind we don’t want — “distress”.) But there’s a lot we can do to moderate our levels of the kind of stress that kills us.

The most effective stress reducer in the world is meditation. Even deep breathing — a few minutes a day — will help.

And while supplements won’t take the place of a lifestyle that includes provisions for “de-stressing” (from a hot bath to a walk in the park), there are many superbly designed stress formulas that can help us stay calm, relieve anxiety, and moderate stress levels.

Cortisol Manager is a wonderful blend of calming herbs like ashwaganda, plus the amino acid L-theanine. Zen also mixes GABA with L-theanine, Stress X combines theanine with GABA, inositol, passionflower and hops, Stress Arrest mixes GABA with vitamin B6,  Holy Basil is one of the oldest and most reliable stress reducers and a staple of Ayruvedic medicine,  End Fatigue Adrenal Stress-End was formulated by the great Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, Brain Calm was formulated by the well-known brain researcher and anti-aging physician Eric Braverman, MD,  and Catecholacalm is Designs for Health’s premiere stress management formula which combines calming herbs like ashwaganda, valerian, lemon balm and passionflower together with L-theanine. Emotional Wellness is a great formula that combines the relaxing neurotransmitter GABA with the calming amino acid L-theanine, plus the herbs passionflower and rhodiola.

You can check out the full line of stress formulas we endorse here. You can’t go wrong with any of them.