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Your Hair Could Reveal if You’re at Risk of Heart Disease Leading to Early Death, According to New Study

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Is it possible for our hair to serve as an indicator for predicting the likelihood of developing cardiovascular diseases? A recent study sheds light on a significant factor that can help determine the overall health of individuals under the age of 55.

New findings unveiled at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Dublin, Ireland (17-20 May) shed light on the potential link between glucocorticoid levels, a type of stress-related steroid hormone, found in individuals’ hair, and their susceptibility to cardiovascular diseases (CVD) in the future. This emerging research suggests that measuring glucocorticoid levels in hair could serve as an indicator of individuals who are at a higher risk of developing CVD.

“There is a tremendous amount of evidence that chronic stress is a serious factor in determining overall health,” remarks lead author Dr. Eline van der Valk.

These findings show “people with higher long-term hair glucocorticoid levels appear significantly more likely to develop heart and circulatory diseases in particular.”

Scalp hair cortisol and its inactive form, hair cortisone, are increasingly being used as biomarkers to assess cumulative exposure to glucocorticoids over an extended period. These biomarkers provide valuable insights into the long-term effects of stress hormones on the body’s metabolism and fat distribution. However, limited data is available on the association between these stress hormone levels and long-term cardiovascular disease (CVD) outcomes.

To delve deeper into this relationship, researchers conducted an analysis on cortisol and cortisone levels in 6,341 hair samples obtained from adult men and women aged 18 and older. These samples were sourced from participants enrolled in Lifelines, a comprehensive multi-generational study that involved over 167,000 individuals from the northern population of the Netherlands.

The researchers assessed the long-term association between cortisol and cortisone levels and incident CVD by following the study participants for an average of 5-7 years. Throughout this period, 133 CVD events occurred.

To ensure the accuracy of their findings, the researchers accounted for various factors known to be associated with an increased risk of CVD, such as age, sex, waist circumference, smoking, blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

The results of the study revealed that individuals with higher long-term cortisone levels had twice the likelihood of experiencing a cardiovascular event, such as a stroke or heart attack. This risk was even greater for participants aged 57 years or younger, with their likelihood of experiencing such an event exceeding threefold.

Interestingly, in the older half of CVD cases (aged 57 and older), there was no significant link between hair cortisone, cortisol levels, and incident CVD.

These findings contribute to our understanding of the impact of stress hormones on long-term cardiovascular health, highlighting the potential role of long-term cortisone levels as a predictive biomarker for cardiovascular events.

The authors hope “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,” adds Professor Elisabeth van Rossum.

The researchers acknowledge several limitations associated with the study, emphasizing its observational nature and the inability to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between stress and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

However, they do highlight a significant association between the two. It is worth noting that the majority of participants self-identified as white and were limited to a specific geographic area in the Netherlands. Therefore, caution should be exercised in generalizing the findings to other populations.

Additionally, while the analysis accounted for factors such as age, sex, waist circumference, smoking, blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, there is a possibility that other unmeasured variables may have influenced the outcomes.

Further research is needed to explore the underlying mechanisms and to develop targeted interventions to mitigate the adverse effects of stress on cardiovascular health, particularly among younger individuals.

Image Credit: Getty

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