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Scientists hail earwax test for checking stress hormone levels

Scientists believe the new test may also be useful for measuring glucose levels, for monitoring diabetes, or potentially even Covid-19 antibodies

Earwax could be used to measure levels of stress and depression in people, scientists have revealed.

Researchers have developed a device, similar to a traditional cotton bud, to collect a sample of earwax for analysis.

The sample is then posted off to a lab, where it is tested for the stress hormone cortisol.

The findings, published in the academic journal Heliyon, could point to a cheaper, more effective way of measuring cortisol to monitor depression and stress-linked conditions.

Scientists believe the new test, which can be done at home without clinical supervision, may also be useful for measuring glucose levels, for monitoring diabetes, or potentially even Covid-19 antibodies.

Scientists have created a device to test earwax for stress hormone cortisol (Trears)

The most common technique for measuring the hormone is with hair samples — but this is more time consuming and expensive compared to the earwax method and is often more subject to short-term fluctuations in cortisol.

Lead researcher Dr Andres Herane-Vives, of University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said: “Cortisol sampling is notoriously difficult, as levels of the hormone can fluctuate, so a sample might not be an accurate reflection of a person’s chronic cortisol levels.

“Moreover, sampling methods themselves can induce stress and influence the results.

“But cortisol levels in earwax appear to be more stable and with our new device it’s easy to take a sample and get it tested quickly, cheaply and effectively.”

Dr Herane-Vives said he was inspired by another natural wax, honeycomb from bees, when developing the device as it is known to be well-preserved and resistant to bacterial contamination.

Earwax has similar properties, making it well suited for home sampling, as samples can be sent to a lab by post without much risk of contamination.

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