Recent study: New meaning given to concept of a “Bad Hair Day”

Some researchers at an Israeli medical centre and the University of Western Ontario recently figured out that your hair can provide an indicator of your varying levels of stress across the span of several months. When we’re under stress we secrete higher levels of a hormone called cortisol. It’s used as a measure of stress levels in much scientific research, but until recently it was only measured from blood, urine, or saliva – which means it could only reflect current stress levels, not past stress levels. These researchers found that there is cortisol deposited in hair as it grows at its usual rate of one centimetre per month, and so a six-centimetre strand of hair holds about six months’ worth of stress data.

Here’s where it gets interesting: men who had had heart attacks were compared to other men who were visiting the hospital for other reasons, and their hair cortisol records showed significantly more cortisol than those of the other men across three months prior to their admission to hospital.

Take-home message? Stress is highly predictive of heart disease. This has actually been demonstrated repeatedly, in various ways. Depression is also a major predictor of heart disease, and probably for the same reasons. The exact mechanism for this relationship is not known, but it probably has something to do with the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, which is the dual-branch control system that connects the brain to the various other organs of the body, including the heart. Stress is related to dominance of one branch of this system over the other: the sympathetic nervous system (designed to mobilize the organism to deal with challenges and dangers) comes to predominate and the parasympathetic nervous system (associated with safety, calm, and relaxation) becomes outgunned. This is all pretty normal, but chronic stress can lead to a situation of prolonged and severe imbalance in the ANS–and some pretty bad health outcomes, not the least of which is heart disease.

Choratech is soon going to be introducing a product that helps to counteract stress by working to shift the balance within the autonomic nervous system in the parasympathetic direction. This technique, known as heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback, has shown results in reducing things like anxiety, panic and depression, and serves as an effective general stress-buster. Interestingly, it also pushes cardiac variables in a more healthy direction, which strongly suggests that it will be an effective preventative measure against heart attack and other forms of heart disease. It involves training the communication pathways between the heart and the brain in such a way as to encourage parasympathetic activity, through providing information to the person moment-to-moment about his or her heart rate, and teaching him or her to increase the flexibility and range of the ANS activity, as reflected in the heart rate.

Curious? Contact us and I’ll go through it with you in detail.

One Response to “Recent study: New meaning given to concept of a “Bad Hair Day””

  1. Debbie says:

    I saw this same study featured on the CBC National News. I just have a comment to make about how almost all the studies done on heart attacks and stress are done on men. Do the researchers honestly think that women do not have stress in their lives! I know that for the first part of our lives we have those “magic” hormones that supposedly reduce our risk of heart attack, but what about when we reach that wonderful “change of life” time. These hormones decrease rapidly putting us at the same risk level as a man. If fact, according to studies that I have read, women die from heart attacks more frequently than men after a certain age.

    Also it is a well documented fact that more women suffer from depression and anxiety than men. Some of this may be attributed to the fact that men will not admit to being depressed. More women will seek out help than men also adding to this number.

    Isn’t it time that studies are also done at the same time on women and not just men for the risk of heart attack? Women need to be more vocal and express the need for studies done on our sex too.

    Just my thoughts but I would be interested to see if other women feel the same way as I do, we are the forgotten sex when it comes to any heart attack studies.

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