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Breath Test Can Determine Stress Levels

Update Date: Mar 18, 2013 10:35 AM EDT

A simple breath test can determine how stressed you are, according to a new study.

A new study has found six markers in breath that could be tested for signs of stress.  Researchers said the results from the latest study could lead to a simple and non-invasive way of measuring stress.

Researchers from Loughborough University and Imperial College London analyzed breath samples of 22 participants in both relaxed and stressful conditions. The participants were 10 young men and 12 young women.

In the relaxation scenario, participants were first asked to sit comfortably and listen to non-stressful music.  In the stress scenario, participants were asked to perform a common mental arithmetic test designed to induce stress.

Researchers said a breath test was taken before and after each session, and heart rates and blood pressures were recorded throughout the experiment.

Researchers analyzed the breath samples using a technique called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, and then statistically analyzed and compared to a library of compounds.

The study found that two compounds in the breath - 2-methyl, pentadecane and indole - increased and another four compounds decreased after stress sessions, according to the findings published in the Journal of Breath Research.

However, the latest findings need to be confirmed with larger, more comprehensive studies, according to researchers.

"If we can measure stress objectively in a non-invasive way, then it may benefit patients and vulnerable people in long-term care who find it difficult to disclose stress responses to their carers, such as those suffering from Alzheimer's," Professor Paul Thomas and lead author of the study said in a statement.

"What is clear from this study is that we were not able to discount stress. It seems sensible and prudent to test this work with more people over a range of ages in more normal settings," he added.

Researchers said breath profiling has become an attractive diagnostic method for health care professionals, and scientists have recently found biomarkers associated with tuberculosis, multiple cancers, pulmonary disease and asthma. However, researchers noted that it is still unclear how to best manage external factors like diet, environment and exercise, which can affect a person's breath sample.

"It is possible that stress markers in the breath could mask or confound other key compounds that are used to diagnose a certain disease or condition, so it is important that these are accounted for," Thomas concluded.

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