Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Stress is in the hair

Good doctors listen to their patients and find out how they feel - see also the excellent Grand Rounds on Narrative Medicine. One very important condition is stress because it can turn many diseases to the worse. - Stress can also be measured in the lab. A new study has found a strong relationship between stress and hair cortisol in healthy pregnant women. Cortisol is a stress hormone circulating in the blood but also reaching the hair roots where it deposits. Thus, a researcher does not have to ask if you have been stressed in the past weeks or months, he just tears out some of your hair, puts it into a test tube and gets your stress value.

Basically, this is a good thing. Research will get more precise results when surveys about self-perceived stress are backed up with hard facts. Thus, in the long run, we may get better insight into the connections between stress and various diseases. The study authors conclude:

"This new long term biological marker may have important implications in research and clinical practice."
Clinical practice? As a patient, I'd rather prefer my doctor talking to me about how I feel, stress included, than watching him quietly tear out my hair.

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