Psychiatric researchers believe they may have discovered a surprising new approach to diagnosing depression, and potentially other emotional disorders, and you won’t believe it. They have discovered that earwax retains concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, which is used to assess mental fitness in clinical settings.
This study involved just 37 volunteers, but Dr. Andres Herane-Vives, a psychiatrist at University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, believes they’ve effectively demonstrated the viability of their method, which could “transform diagnostics and care for millions of people with depression or stress-related conditions,” he said in a statement.
For now, doctors use subjective assessments to arrive at a mental-health diagnosis and decide what therapy is suitable. Typically the hormone tests are done through standard bodily fluid samples. “Cortisol sampling is notoriously difficult, as levels of the hormone can fluctuate,” said Herane-Vives, whose work was published in the journal Heliyon. “Moreover, sampling methods themselves can induce stress and influence the results.” But if this method of using earwax works out as they expect, it could give an idea of how consistently it is being produced by the individual.
It gets even better in that these new tests can be done from the patients home. They can collect a sample and have it sent to a lab for analysis. Trears, the diagnostic swabs devised for the study, have a “brake” that prevents users from swabbing into the ear canal too deeply and damaging the sensitive drum.