Long Red Hair

Stress in Your Hair with a Link to Obesity?

Obesity, Cortisol, and LifestylePlenty of people feel stressed about their hair. But who knew that traces of stress in your hair are measurable. Well, a novel study published this month in Obesity suggests that scientists can do just that. Sarah Jackson and colleagues measured cortisol concentration in hair samples from 2,527 British men and women over four years. And they found a robust correlation between these cortisol levels, obesity, and the persistence of obesity over time.

Producing cortisol is one of the body’s key responses to stress.

The Value of Hair Cortisol Measures

In a companion commentary, Elisabeth F.C. van Rossum says measuring hair cortisol is innovative and promising. It provides a way to get a handle on long-term cortisol exposure. Measuring blood of saliva levels has not been good enough. That’s because levels in body fluids vary so much. They don’t provide a good view of how much cortisol a body produces over time. In your hair, it accumulates over time. It provides a longer view.

More Questions

So we have a better measure of cortisol. But that means there’s more work to do.  The next step is to explore the implications for understanding obesity. Is cortisol production a cause of obesity? Or is it a result? How are patients with more cortisol exposure different from others? Do they require different treatment strategies?

In the complex, chronic disease of obesity, new insights bring new questions and new opportunities for progress.

Click here for the study and here for the commentary. For added perspective from Medical News Today, click here.

Long Red Hair, photograph © Djuliet / flickr

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March 1, 2017

3 Responses to “Stress in Your Hair with a Link to Obesity?”

  1. March 01, 2017 at 9:35 am, Emily Cooper said:

    The correlation depicted in the diagram with causal assumptions made here might not reflect the true picture. ACTH is a critical component of the central metabolic pathway and when there are metabolic glitches, conversion of ACTH to MSH is impaired thus ACTH ‘trafficking’ favors cortisol production. (endorphin, AgRP, NPY, ghrelin excess)

    So metabolic dysfunction is the cause – excess weight and excess cortisol are the symptoms… Cortisol and excess weight may then be neither cause or consequence of one another – but actually both consequences of metabolic dysfunction which contributes to both cortisol imbalances and excess body weight.

    The diagram with this article implies that those with obesity had unhealthy lifestyles – I thought we’re moving away from that false assumption and stigma?!

    • March 01, 2017 at 3:20 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Emily. I encourage you to write a letter to the editor at Obesity. Also, I agree with you that the word choice of “unhealthy lifestyles” in the visual from the commentary published in Obesity is unfortunate. But I’m inclined to give the author the benefit of the doubt. “Unhealthy lifestyles” can refer to individual factors or it can refer to cultural factors that surround and consume us all.

      Stephen, you’re right. Thanks for the smile.

  2. March 01, 2017 at 11:30 am, Stephen Phillips / American Association of Bariatric Counselors said:

    I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” is a song from the musical South Pacific (1949). Sung by Mary Martin, it relates to the stress of a romance. Rodgers and Hammerstein who wrote the song would be proud to know they were way ahead of their times