If you're stressed, go ahead -- spit!
April 21, 1997
Web posted at: 10:13 p.m. EDT (0213 GMT)
From Medical Correspondent Al Hinman
CHICAGO (CNN) -- If the daily grind makes you so mad you could spit, there may be a method to your madness. Your saliva could become medicine's new way to measure stress.
Accurately measuring stress is not easy, and often involves taking a blood sample after a workout. But the U.S. Army wants an alternative to blood tests, something easier to use to measure potentially harmful stress levels in the field.
A Northwestern University Medical School researcher thinks the solution is as simple as spit.
An enzyme in saliva called amylase increases in response to stress. The enzyme normally helps break down carbohydrates, such as pasta and potatoes.
"We've actually had people walk, jog and run, and measured the incremental increases in amylase. And it increases very much in proportion to heart rate," said Northwestern's Dr. Robert Chatterton.
But measuring stress isn't as simple as measuring someone's heart rate, because it seems the heart responds to too many other control factors and isn't the best measure of physical stress.
The test kit uses a small sponge to take the saliva sample. In the lab, if the sample changes color, there's stress.
"The more amylase there is, the quicker the color changes," Chatterton said.
The researchers concede their testing kit could use some refinements, but believe the basic saliva stress measurement process works.
Besides, "drawing blood itself is a stress-producing thing, whereas collecting saliva and measuring the response of the sympathetic nervous system in that way avoids some of the stress of trying to measure stress," Chatterton said.
Now, if only eliminating the causes of stress were as easy.
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