Earwax could help measure your levels of stress, risk of depression  |  Photo Credit: iStock Images
- Stress has become a part and parcel of life, especially during the pandemic
- Chronic stress, however, can lead to a high risk of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues
- A new study has found that earwax may be the best way to measure levels of cortisol in the body
New Delhi: Mental health issues have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic all around the world, and researchers are worried that a mental health crisis may follow the COVID-19 healthcare crisis that the world is currently battling. The stress of the pandemic, unemployment, uncertainty of situations around the world, loneliness due to isolation and lockdown, etc are all reasons for the same. With the work from home practice, stress for people who have jobs has also increased and intruded into personal space and life.
However, when someone says they are too stressed, it is always abstract and there existed no way to measure the levels of stress. Since chronic stress can also put you at high risk of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, researchers found it was rather important to find ways to measure the feeling.
Earwax can help measure your levels of stress
According to recent reports, researchers have come up with a new method of collecting and analysing earwax, which will be able to reveal levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. It may also be a simple and cheap way to track mental health of people with depression and anxiety.
For the uninitiated, cortisol is a crucial hormone released by the body when a person is stressed and declines when you are relaxed and at peace. The hormone is responsible for the “fight or flight” response initially, but high levels of cortisol at all times can have a negative effect on almost all parameters of your health including the immune system, blood pressure, and others.
Why earwax is the best choice to measure cortisol
Cortisol is found in saliva, blood and even hair. However, blood and saliva samples capture only one moment in time, and cortisol fluctuates highly throughout the day. In that respect, hair samples can still provide an idea of cortisol levels over months but can be expensive to analyse. Some people may also not have enough hair that can be used as a sample to measure cortisol levels.
Therefore, Andrés Herane-Vives, a lecturer at University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Institute of Psychiatry, and his colleagues thought of studying the earwax for cortisol levels. Earwax is stable, resistant to bacterial contamination, and can also be shipped to labs easily for analysis. They can also be records of cortisol levels stretching over several weeks.
Cortisol much more concentrated in earwax, than hair
In a small study, researchers collected blood, hair, and earwax samples from 37 participants, at two different times. When they compared the reliability of the cortisol measurements from the self-swab earwax with that of other methods, it was found that cortisol was much more concentrated in the earwax, as compared to hair, making their analysis easier.
In a small pilot study, researchers collected blood, hair and earwax from 37 participants at two different time points. At each collection point, they sampled earwax using a syringe from one ear and using the new self-swab method from the other. The researchers then compared the reliability of the cortisol measurements from the self-swab earwax with that of the other methods.
They also found that the earwax showed more consistency in cortisol levels compared with the other methods, which were more sensitive to fluctuations caused by things like recent alcohol consumption.
The findings of the study were reported in the journal Heliyon. Researchers further wish to study the earwax for measuring other hormones in the body as well.