Hard to define, and difficult to diagnose, stress is a well-known killer leading to high blood pressure, heart attacks, and depression. A quicker way to identify the problem, therefore, is welcome.
In a series of experiments, researchers in the U.K. isolated six markers in the breath that potentially could lead to a breath test for stress–and therefore help people before they start suffering serious illness. The scientists from Loughborough University and Imperial College London say two compounds increased following a stressful experience, while a further four decreased, possibly because of heightened breathing.
The experiment subjected 22 young adults to both a highly stressful experience (a complicated math test) and a soothing one (a piece of classical musical). The researchers then tested breath for the compounds, as well as heart rates and blood pressures. The researchers speculate that faster breathing changes the profile of the breath, though they emphasize the need for more experiments, and higher numbers of subjects.
“If we can measure stress objectively in a non-invasive way, then it may benefit patients and vulnerable people in long-term care who find it difficult to disclose stress responses to their carers, such as those suffering from Alzheimer’s,” says Paul Thomas, a professor at Loughborough.