(HealthDay News) – Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, detectable in hair samples, is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a study published online April 17 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Laura Manenschijn, MD, from the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, and colleagues randomly selected 283 community-dwelling elderly participants (median age, 75 years) from a population-based cohort. Three centimeter hair segments were used to measure cortisol.

The researchers found that hair cortisol levels were significantly lower in women than in men (21pg/mg hair vs. 26.3pg/mg hair). There was a significantly increased cardiovascular risk associated with high hair cortisol levels (odds ratio, 2.7) as well as a significantly increased risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus (odds ratio, 3.2). Hair cortisol levels were not found to be associated with non-cardiovascular diseases.

“The increased cardiovascular risk we found is equivalent to the effect of traditional cardiovascular risk factors, suggesting that long-term elevated cortisol may be an important cardiovascular risk factor,” the authors write.

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