Scientists use hair to predict who will suffer from cardiovascular diseases

Hair samples contain a class of steroid hormones secreted as a response to stress.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Stress shows up in hair samples.jpg
Stress shows up in hair samples.

Totojang/iStock 

A new study is revealing that glucocorticoid level, a class of steroid hormones secreted as a response to stress, present in the hair of individuals may indicate which of them are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases (CVD) in the future.

This is according to a press release by the European Association for the Study of Obesity published on Friday.

“There is a tremendous amount of evidence that chronic stress is a serious factor in determining overall health. Now our findings indicate that people with higher long-term hair glucocorticoid levels appear significantly more likely to develop heart and circulatory diseases in particular,” said lead author Dr Eline van der Valk from Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Scientists are increasingly using long-term levels of scalp hair cortisol and its inactive form, hair cortison, as biomarkers that represent the cumulative exposure to glucocorticoids over the previous months.

Past studies have found that the stress hormones cortisol and cortisone affect the body’s metabolism and fat distribution. However, not much research has been done on these stress hormone levels and their effect on long-term CVD outcomes.

So in the new study, researchers analyzed cortisol and cortisone levels in 6,341 hair samples from adult men and women (aged 18 and older) enrolled in Lifelines—a multi-generational study including over 167,000 participants from the northern population of the Netherlands.

Long-term study

Participants were followed for an average 5-7 years to assess the long-term relationship between cortisol and cortisone levels and incident CVD in samples taken from their hair. In this time frame, there were 133 CVD events.

The study was further adjusted for factors known to be linked with increased risk of CVD including age, sex, waist circumference, smoking, blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

The results of the research indicated that people with higher long-term cortisone levels were twice as likely to experience a cardiovascular event like a stroke or heart attack, and this rose to over three times as likely in those aged 57 years or younger.

“Our hope is that hair analysis may ultimately prove useful as a test that can help clinicians determine which individuals might be at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Then, perhaps in the future targeting the effects of stress hormones in the body could become a new treatment target,” said in the statement Professor Elisabeth van Rossum, the principal investigator of the study from Erasmus University Medical Center.

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