A research led by the University of Melbourne in Australia found that cortisol levels in hair samples of children may aid in identifying the risk of a child developing mental illnesses and even chronic diseases later in life, reported The Guardian on Thursday.
The research was conducted as part of the Childhood to Adolescence Study by Murdoch Children's Research Institute, which follows a group of 1,200 children across Melbourne.
To come up with the conclusion, the researchers examined the cortisol levels in the hair of 70 nine-year-old students from primary schools in Victoria, Australia.
The hormone Cortisol is excreted within the body's system as a reaction to acute stress in order to aid the body in its coping mechanism, noted EmpowHER on Sept. 28, 2011.
However, over secretion of the hormone over time will lead to the destruction of nerve cells within a portion of the brain known as the hippocampus, and may consequently lead to dementia and even the inability of the body to ward off infectious diseases.
In their study, the researchers found that higher hair cortisol levels were observed in a child who has experienced traumatic situations, such as injury, severe illness, death of a loved one, or the divorce of parents.
This information suggests that cortisol levels in the hair may act as a marker in children on trauma exposure, which puts them at risk of developing behavioral and psychosocial issues requiring psychological support.
"Childhood is an imperative and sensitive period of development, and when things go wrong it can have lifelong consequences, not just on mental health, but also on general health," said Dr. Julian Simmons, leader of the study and a fellow in child and adolescent mental health at the University of Melbourne.
"What's less commonly understood is that beyond poor mental health, it can also be associated with the development of other illnesses such as diabetes, obesity and cholesterol issues," Simmons added "because cortisol is also central to glucose availability, blood pressure and immune function, so identifying these children is important."
Simmons stated that having high cortisol levels in children do not imply that they would be developing behavioral problems or mental illnesses as other factors are also to be considered.
"We hope this can be used as one of the tools to identify children at risk," Simmons said.