Just Another Teachin’ Tuesday: Avoiding a Heart Attack – By a Hair

Chronic stress may lead to heart problems. Cortisol is secreted as a result of chronic stress. Researchers have now discovered a fascinating cortisol biomarker that may prevent a whole lot of heart attacks.

The workings of the HPA axis are of great importance to anyone enduring a mood and/or anxiety disorder. Here’s a link to an article that will bring you up to speed.

In the meantime, just know the HPA axis is responsible for the secretion of cortisol. And it’s cortisol, secreted under stress, that ignites our fight/flight response, bringing into play both norepinephrine and epinephrine.

Okay, so it makes perfect sense that the machinations of stress and cortisol may lead to heart problems. That being the case, it seems coming up with a way to measure and monitor cortisol levels would go a long way toward prevention.

No biggie – it’s been done for quite some time using saliva and urine. Problem is, such testing doesn’t do such a hot job of measuring cortisol levels over a long period of  time. And, remember, we’re interested in the impact of chronic stress.

Enter a research team from the University of Western Ontario. They’ve discovered cortisol levels in hair may actually be the first biomarker to measure chronic stress.

And that’s huge because now it’s possible to provide an accurate measurement of stress levels in the months preceding a heart attack.


See, hair grows an average of one centimeter a month. So if a six cm long hair sample was tested, it could be deduced it contains cortisol level measurements for the past six months.

Practically applying the fruits of their lab work, the researchers discovered hair cortisol levels during the three months preceding a hospitalization were much higher for heart attack patients versus a control group.

As a matter of fact, the research team reported cortisol content was the strongest predictor of heart attack.

So there you have it, a quick bit of learning on Just Another Teachin’ Tuesday. Oh – and if you’re a chronic stressie/cortisol pumper – especially if you have other cardiac risk factors cookin’ – talk with your physician as soon as possible.