Secrets in a strand of hair: A new window on cardiovascular health

Cardiologist in La Jolla comments on newest advances in cardiovascular health.
Cardiologist in La Jolla comments on newest advances in cardiovascular health.

Cardiologist in La Jolla comments on newest advances in cardiovascular health.

By Dr. Michael Wright

Blood samples are generally considered the gold standard for determining cardiovascular risk, but as a new study suggests, traditional health screenings may be on the line now that a new form of testing is making headlines in heart health.

According to a Dutch study published in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, just one strand of hair when closely analyzed has much to reveal about an individual’s heart including trends in cortisol and stress levels – two factors that can greatly increase your chance at sustaining future heart 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.

After studying a group of 283 individuals between the ages of 65 and 85 years old, researchers discovered that cortisol levels found within the composition of hair could reveal a person’s risk for heart disease. The study concluded that high cortisol levels contained within strands leads to greater risk for stroke, coronary disease, diabetes or peripheral arterial disease.

"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.

Consumers who are eager to have their hair analyzed will have to nonetheless wait. Researchers say the long-term link between cortisol and the heart must be further explored before hair testing becomes a standard in cardiovascular wellbeing. Until then, there’s plenty you can do to stay on top of your cardiovascular health – and here’s how.

PREVENTING HEART DISEASE: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

When it comes to preventing heart disease, regular checkups and blood tests are just the beginning in taking control over your cardiovascular health. Here’s what you can do to stay heart healthy.

Quit Smoking

Smoking is not just a bad habit – it’s a deadly killer responsible for countless deaths every year due to the stress it places on the heart. Tobacco use leads also to the narrowing of arteries which can also increase your risk for a heart attack. Talk to your doctor about programs that can help you kick the habit.

Exercise & Maintain Healthy Weight

When it comes to preventing heart disease, daily activity and healthy weight can go miles in maintaining heart health. You can get creative with your exercise goals by taking stairs, taking up activities like gardening and dancing, window shopping, doing leg lifts while seated, taking a quick stroll around your office building on lunch breaks, housekeeping, daily stretches – the point is, you can stay active even if you maintain a busy schedule by implementing small amounts of exercise throughout your day.

Weight is better maintained when your diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, so try to include at least two varieties with every meal.

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