A team at Northwestern University has developed a soft, skin-interface silicone sensor that can analyze the molecular makeup of sweat for elements such as cortisol, blood sugar and vitamin C, sending the data to the user’s smartphone.
The researchers hope that this data will allow people to better control their stress levels throughout the day.
Cortisol, sometimes called the stress hormone, can be measured in a person’s sweat. Released from the adrenal glands in periods of physical and mental stress, it can be a powerful performance enhancer, increasing energy production and glucose availability to muscles during a “fight or flight” situation, for example when attacked by a lion.
However, cortisol can also be released due to modern stressors such as money problems, problems at work, and other everyday worries that, if accumulated over time, create the profile of chronic anxiety and can lead to an increased risk of diabetes. . , hypertension, depression and obesity.
A chip on your shoulder
When someone using the chip sweats, the liquid passes through tiny channels into a series of chemical test sensors that look for different biological signals that could suggest an increase in cortisol.
Previous attempts to create devices like this in previous years were limited by the need to bring sweat samples to laboratories for analysis, eliminating any ability for the individual to act on the data in a way that could prevent the accumulation of feelings. stressful or even anxious. attack.
“Field tests illustrate the capabilities in measuring cortisol, glucose, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) along with digital tracking of sweat rate and GSR in four healthy volunteers exercising on a stationary bike in an environment of Gym”. write to study authors, published in procedures of the National Academy of Sciences.
This was done in a lab-gym for a week, and involved disrupting the participants’ sleep patterns in a way that was designed to mimic long, stressful study nights.
Every day, the researchers rode an exercise bike, and the researchers used their chip to monitor cortisol levels, which normally move throughout the day in accordance with our circadian rhythms. At the end of the test, which consisted of 14 days of recovery from normal sleep supplemented with vitamin C, a vitamin that is used to lower hormone levels, it was shown that the period of stress had deregulated their cortisol secretion and led to an increase of stress levels. hormone in their bodies.
“Subjects experience physiological stress, fatigue and irregular life patterns during intensive work and inadequate sleep. These conditions alter the circadian rhythm cortisol-melatonin [and] as a result, the hypothalamus region of the brain produces corticotropin-releasing hormone, which in turn… increases cortisol production and alters the circadian rhythm of cortisol, ”the authors write.
They note that the cortisol concentrations in the saliva were very similar to those recorded by the small chips, suggesting that the data collected is quite reliable, as saliva samples are usually very accurate.
Such a device could be critical in helping people relieve depressive or stressful feelings (especially since exercising hard enough to induce sweating alone helps with anxiety).
Furthermore, the percentage of the American adult population with regular feelings of worry, nervousness, or anxiety is around 11.2%, while almost 60 million medical consultations where mental or behavioral health is the primary concern.
Putting the power in the hands of patients, in the form of a detailed diagnosis of cortisol levels, could significantly help lower those numbers.
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