A Northwestern University team has developed a soft, silicon, skin-interfaced sensor that can analyze the molecular composition of sweat for things like cortisol, blood sugar, and vitamin C, sending the data to the wearer’s smartphone.
This data, the researchers hope, 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 under periods of physical and mental stress, it can be a powerful performance enhancer—increasing energy production and glucose availability for the muscles during a “fight or flight” situation, for instance being attacked by a lion.
However, cortisol can also be released because of modern stressors such as money problems, issues at work, and other day-to-day worries that if built up over time, create the profile of chronic anxiety and can lead to an increased risk for diabetes, hypertension, depression, and obesity.
This was done in a laboratory-gymnasium for a week, and involved disrupting the sleep patterns of the participants in a way that was designed to mimic stressful long nights of studying.
They point out that saliva concentrations of cortisol were very similar to those registered by the small chips, suggesting that the data collected is quite reliable, as saliva samples are normally very accurate.
Such a device could be paramount in helping people relieve depressive or stressful feelings (not least because exercising hard enough to induce sweating helps with anxiety on its own).
Furthermore, the percent of the population of American adults with regular feelings of worry, nervousness, or anxiety is around 11.2%, while there are nearly 60 million doctors’ visits where mental or behavioral health is the chief concern.
The Northwestern University team has revealed that Putting power into patients’ hands—in the form of a detailed diagnosis of cortisol levels, could help significantly to lower those numbers.