The perennial stress buster — a deep breath — could become a stress detector, according to a team of researchers from the UK.
In their new study, the researchers identified six markers in the breath that could be candidates for use as indicators of stress.
The researchers hope their findings could lead to a simple and non-invasive test for measuring stress.
However, the study involved just 22 subjects, so it would need to include more people before any concrete conclusions can be made, they said.
“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,” said Paul Thomas, Ph.D., lead author of the study.
Devised by researchers at Loughborough University and Imperial College London, the study included 10 male and 12 female young adults who took part in two sessions. In the first, they were asked to sit comfortably and listen to non-stressful music. In the second, they were asked to perform a common mental arithmetic test that has been designed to induce stress.
A breath test was taken before and after each session, while heart rates and blood pressures were recorded throughout, according to the researchers. The breath samples were examined using a technique known as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, and then statistically analyzed and compared to a library of compounds.
Two compounds in the breath — 2-methyl, pentadecane and indole — increased following the stressful math session. If this can be confirmed in further studies, the researchers said they believe it could form the basis of a rapid test.
Four other compounds were shown to decrease with stress, which could be due to changes in breathing patterns, the researchers note.
The researchers said their initial assumptions are that stressed people breathe faster and have increased pulse rates and an elevated blood pressure, which is likely to change their breath profile.
They emphasize, however, that it is too soon to postulate about the biological origins and the roles of the compounds in a stress response.
“What is clear from this study is that we were not able to discount stress,” the researchers said in the study, which was published in the Journal of Breath Research. “It seems sensible and prudent to test this work with more people over a range of ages in more normal settings.”
Source: Institute of Physics