Erasmus MC Press Release Rotterdam, 03 May 2011
Hair predicts health risks
It is the first time that the stress hormone cortisol can be found in the body over a longer period of time
Erasmus MC researchers have now for the first time discovered a method for determining whether people had too much of the stress hormone cortisol in their body over a longer period of time. They managed to find this in hair. This new method can play a vital role in the preventive detection of the development of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and depression. The researchers will present their results today during the European Congress of Endocrinology.
Cortisol plays an important role in the development of all sorts of disorders, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and depression. The human body produces cortisol to regulate the metabolism. If the body is put under physical or psychological pressure, the cortisol level in the blood increases to enable the body to deal with this problem. To date, the cortisol level could only be measured from the blood or saliva. Considering that the coritsol level varies greatly per day and throughout the day, this research method is not reliable for the longer term.

The Erasmus MC research team, led by research physician Laura Manenschijn, tested the cortisol level using the head hair of 195 healthy research participants and 14 patients. They found variations in the cortisol level in the healthy women who had long hair resulting from psychological stress over a longer period. In addition, they also found a relationship between the cortisol level in the hair and the waist circumference. The patients included in the research group had a disorder which resulted in a cortisol level which was either too high or too low. The extent to which the participants had been exposed to cortisol agreed conclusively with what the researchers found in the hair.

Manenschijn: “Our research results are promising. They show that measuring the cortisol level in hair can be a good method to identify how much cortisol was present in the body over a longer period of time. This method will result in many clinical applications and, furthermore, it is easy to perform and it is very patient friendly. In addition, we want to apply this method in larger studies so as to gain a better understanding of the effect of cortisol on the development of various disorders, such as cardiovascular diseases and depression.”
Erasmus MC is the largest University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Our primary goal is a healthy population. Nearly 13,000 employees devote themselves every day to providing outstanding care, facilitating world-class education and conducting pioneering research. These professionals are instrumental in developing expertise on health and illness. They link the latest scientific insights to practical treatments and prevention measures to provide maximum benefit to patients and to enable healthy people to stay healthy longer. Being visibly better and leading the way in the areas of complex, innovative and acute care by collaborating with others: these are key ambitions at Erasmus MC.