DUBLIN, Ireland — Stress hormones detected in our hair could potentially predict the risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke, a recent study suggests. According to the findings, individuals with elevated levels of the stress hormones cortisol and cortisone are twice as likely to experience a cardiovascular event such as a stroke or heart attack in their lifetime. The probability escalates to over three times for those 57 years of age or younger.
The research team from the Netherlands investigated long-term levels of cortisol and its inactive form, cortisone, found in scalp hair. The presence of these hormones indicates that a person has been exposed to the steroid hormone glucocorticoid, a response to stress, in the preceding months.
Cortisol and cortisone influence the body’s metabolism and fat distribution. However, limited data exists on their impact on long-term cardiovascular disease. To expand this knowledge, the researchers analyzed cortisol and cortisone levels in over 6,000 hair samples collected from adult men and women participating in the multi-generational Lifelines study. This study involved over 167,000 participants from northern regions of the Netherlands.
During the study, which followed each participant for an average of five to seven years, the scientists sought to understand the long-term relationship between cortisol and cortisone levels and cardiovascular diseases. During the study period, there were 133 reported instances of cardiovascular disease events.
Participants with elevated cortisol and cortisone levels had twice the likelihood of experiencing a cardiovascular event during their lifetime. This risk increased to over three times for individuals 57 years of age or younger. However, for those aged 57 and older, there was no significant link found between hair cortisol and cortisone levels and cardiovascular disease.
“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,” says study author professor Elisabeth van Rossum from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam in a medical release. “Then, perhaps in the future targeting the effects of stress hormones in the body could become a new treatment target.”
Cardiovascular disease, encompasses conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels, includes coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one person dies every 33 seconds in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease.
Study authors presented their findings at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Dublin, Ireland.
South West News Service writer Alice Clifford contributed to this report.