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Hair Can Predict A Person's Heart Disease Risk, Scientists Claim

Update Date: Apr 17, 2013 01:01 PM EDT
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Hair strands may be better than blood tests at determining cardiovascular risk, a new study suggests.

Scientists explain that hair contains valuable information about stress levels, which can be used to determine a person's cardiovascular disease risk. Unlike blood tests, which can only determine stress hormone levels at a single point in time, scalp hair analysis can reveal trends in cortisol levels over the course of several months.

Researchers say hair sample analysis allows doctors to have a better sense of the variability in cortisol levels to determine a person's cardiovascular risk.

The findings published in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that older people who had higher long-term levels of cortisol were significantly more likely to have cardiovascular disease.

"Like high blood pressure or abdominal fat, the findings suggest elevated cortisol levels are an important signal that an individual is at risk of cardiovascular disease," researcher Dr. Laura Manenschijn, of Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, said in a news release.

"Because scalp hair can capture information about how cortisol levels have changed over time, hair analysis gives us a better tool for evaluating that risk," she explained.

Researchers measured cortisol levels in 283 randomly selected community-dwelling seniors between the ages of 65 and 85 years old.  

Researchers were able to measure trends in cortisol levels over a three-month period using 3-centimeter-long hair samples taken from close to the scalp.  Researchers found that people with high cortisol levels in their hair were more likely to have a history of coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral arterial disease or diabetes.

"The data showed a clear link between chronically elevated cortisol levels and cardiovascular disease," co-researcher Dr. Elisabeth van Rossum of Erasmus MC said in a statement.

Researchers say more studies are needed to confirm the role of long-term cortisol measurement in predicting cardiovascular disease risk and how the technique can be used to help improve new and existing treatment and prevention strategies.

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