I’m always amazed when I read about the latest heart research findings. We’ve learned so much about new ways to lower your heart disease risk. So, I’d like to tell you about this simple way to know your heart attack and stroke risk just by studying this one part of your body…
Your Hair Records Your Stress Level
Heart researchers thought that high cholesterol was the culprit for heart disease. But, that’s been proven to only be a small part of the problem. Chronic stress, and the inflammation it causes, is now thought to be a more important factor. Recently, researchers found a very simple way of knowing your stroke and heart attack risk by measuring your stress levels.
It seems a certain part of your body has the ability to “record” chronic stress over a period of time. Researchers believe it gives a more accurate picture of what your real stress and risk levels are. Blood, urine, and saliva tests show only what’s present when these tests are drawn.
This body part is your hair. It seems it can predict heart attack and stroke risk. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “crowning glory” especially as you get older. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that strands of your hair tell the story of your stress levels. Analyzing your hair can tell your heart attack and stroke risk.
Your hair stores stress hormone cortisol levels over months say University of Rotterdam researchers. It shows the up and down variations of cortisol in your body. It can give your doctor a better idea of your chronic stress level.
Seniors were studied, in particular. It was felt that knowing an older person’s stress levels was a more important risk factor than their cholesterol numbers. So, researchers cut a 3 cm strand of hair from close to the scalp to test cortisol levels. Each centimeter of hair represents about a 1-month level of growth. It was felt that a 3 cm strand revealed cortisol levels over the last 3 months of someone’s life.
Seniors with higher cortisol levels had more heart disease, stroke, diabetes and peripheral artery disease. Researchers concluded that high cortisol levels in hair revealed a hidden, but clear, link to heart disease.
These new findings support an earlier study done by the University of Western Ontario in 2010. They wanted a physical way to reliably measure chronic stress in the body. Cortisol can be high during a heart attack or stroke. But, it wasn’t clear if higher cortisol levels were from the event itself, or, did the high levels cause the event?
Researchers needed a reliable way to measure cortisol levels not in the immediate setting of a heart attack or stroke. They found that a 6 cm hair strand test gave a good picture of stress in the 6 months before heart attack or stroke. They concluded that hair cortisol levels was the strongest predictor of a heart attack.
Know Your Risk, Lower Your Cortisol
A hair cortisol test may become one of the “gold standard” heart disease tests. But, your doctor probably won’t offer you one just yet. Although I’m going to recommend hair cortisol testing to my patients, it’s still too new a concept to many mainstream cardiologists.
You don’t need to wait until your doctor offers you a hair cortisol test. You can order a hair testing kit on your own without a doctor’s prescription. There are several reputable hair testing labs that you can find on the internet –one may even be in your local area. Simply do a search for “hair cortisol testing”.
Other labs provide collection services as well. One of these is Accu-Metrics Viaguard. Though it’s located in Canada, it does provide both international services as well as the U.S. See their link at the end of this article.
Once you get the results of your testing, you’ll know if you need to make changes in your lifestyle to lower your cortisol levels. If your cortisol levels are low, or normal, then you keep on with your healthy routine.
If your cortisol levels are elevated, here are some things you can do to lower them:
1. Your diet. Many foods can help lower cortisol levels. These include magnesium rich foods like spinach, dark chocolate/cocoa; phosphatidylserine rich foods like white beans and barley; vitamin C rich foods like citrus fruits and berries; Omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish, flax seeds, and nuts; “adaptogen” type herbs like Holy Basil that help counter stress. You can also drink as a tea; zinc-rich foods like oysters and other seafood.
Cut down caffeine and refined sugar, both boost cortisol. Controlled servings of complex carbs at each meal control cortisol. Very low carb diets elevate cortisol levels.
Stress supplements also help. These include good levels of the B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, chromium and zinc, Vitamin C, CoQ-10, DHEA, alpha lipoic acid and grapeseed extract.
2. Sleep More. Optimal sleep is crucial to your cardiovascular health as well as the rest of you. Research shows that a 50-year-old has higher nighttime cortisol than a 30-year-old, likely because they don’t sleep very well. Sleep releases cortisol. A little melatonin, about 2 to 3 grams can help you sleep more deeply and longer.
3. Exercise. Nothing burns cortisol out like aerobic exercise. Go for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week. Brisk walking, treadmill, running, elliptical, swimming, etc are all excellent cortisol busters.
4. Relax. Meditating, quietly reading a book, watching a funny comedy, playing a game with someone, all help lower cortisol levels.
Keeping cortisol levels under control is crucial to staying healthy as you get older. If you’re concerned about your cortisol levels, get a hair strand test to reveal your risk. Then, make some healthy changes to your lifestyle as noted here. There’s also an added, “youthifying” bonus to lowering cortisol levels. It makes you look much younger! High cortisol dehydrates you and causes faster breakdown of collagen and elastin resulting in deeper wrinkles and sagging. Lowering cortisol gives your skin a chance to rebuild and rehydrate itself.
Ron Blankstein, M.D.
Hair Analysis Reveals Elevated Stress Levels Raise Cardiovascular Risk, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130417131817.htm
Hair Provides Proof of the Link Between Chronic Stress and Heart Disease, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100903072320.htm
Hair Cortisol Testing Source, http://www.accu-metrics.com/cardiac-risk.php