May 10, 2016
Measuring cortisol in hair to detect children at risk
According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia, the concentration of cortisol (an important stress hormone) in hair is associated with exposure to an adverse environment in children.
To come to this conclusion, researchers of the Center for Adolescent Health measured cortisol in hair as well as exposure to adverse environments (such as negligence, sexual abuse, living in a violent household, etc.) in 70 school-age children in the region of Victoria, Australia. The results provide evidence for a link between the number of adverse events to which the child is exposed and the level of cortisol found in the child’s hair - the higher the number of adverse events, the higher the concentration of cortisol in the child’s hair.
Many studies have shown that exposure to an adverse environment during childhood is an important predictor of the development of mental health disorders (such as depression) and physical disorders (such as cardiovascular diseases and type II diabetes) in adulthood. This discovery is particularly interesting since the authors suggest it would eventually be possible to use this biological marker (cortisol in hair) in order to detect children at risk to developing, in adulthood, chronic pathologies linked to the exposure of an adverse environment during childhood. This detection would allow these children to be provided with preventive treatments before they are afflicted with such disorders.