A pair of hands are putting a plaster on a red, flat wooden heart.

Stress is typical for our societies today. A stressful society and stressful everyday life affect us all, from children to adults and the elderly. Stress symptoms is possibly also one of the most predominant features for patients seeking medical care in primary health care today.

When mobilizing resources to deal with (perceived) extreme, repeated or constant threats without sufficient periods of recovery it is likely that the stress system may cause harms to the body. The HPA-axes activity increases, and higher degree of the stress hormone cortisol is activated in or bodies which could be measured in blood, but also in urine and saliva. Accordingly, elevated cortisol levels have been found to be associated with for example obesity, diabetes type II, mental disorders and cardiovascular risk factors.

Close up on when a lock of hair is cut from a person's head.

Our research group has for several years now refined and further developed an analyse method where we extract cortisol levels in human hair. The cortisol in hair method gives us the unique opportunity to record stress levels and HPA-axis activity retrospectively, like year rings on a tree. That is very uncommon for other biomarkers in medicine. This method is stable, reliable and also non-invasive and easy to collect even in large samples. Hair samples can be stored in room temperature until use. Until now, our research group have made thousands of cortisol in hair analysis in different studies and settings including pregnant mothers, small children, teenagers and adults in different occupational groups and also among elderly people.

The Stressheart research group is also participating in the National SCAPIS-study. We have measured hair cortisol levels for over 5.000 participants in the SCAPIS-study in Linköping and Umeå. We could thereby analyse the impact of long-term stress on a broad array of cardiovascular risk factors for a large population-based sample.A hand is holding four testtubes with hair in them.Hair samples.

In a recent published case control study from our research group we analysed middle-aged individuals suffering a myocardial infarction in comparison to the normal population from the SCAPIS-study. The study showed that middle-aged persons with acute myocardial infarction had significantly elevated cortisol levels during the month before the cardiac event. This was evident for both men and women. The biomarker cortisol concentration was independently and statistically significantly related to AMI. Chronic stress seems to be a new promising risk factor for AMI.

Research group