Maybe you’ve perfected an authentic-seeming facade of happiness, but your earwax calls your bluff. While measuring your heart rate or testing your blood for cortisol, the stress hormone, might indicate your levels of stress at the precise moment this data is collected, researchers have recently found that your earwax can reveal the bigger picture — and soon enough, we might be able to test our earwax from home to better understand our mental health.
Unlike most other byproducts of the body, like blood or urine, ear wax is one of the few substances that remains with us for an extended period of time without filtering. It’s a long-term collection of waxy oils forming together to produce our ears’ inner protective coating, and can contain potentially several months worth of our bodily information. Like using a strand of hair to assess whether someone has previously used a drug but may no longer have traces of the drug in their urine, earwax contains residual hormones indicative of our levels of stress.
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Which might actually offer a more in-depth look at someone’s mental health. In a study from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, researchers collected samples of hair, blood and earwax from 37 participants. These samples were then measured for cortisol. Of the three, earwax contained the most: Blood samples only reflected cortisol levels at the time the blood was taken, and though hair samples could reflect cortisol levels over a longer term, they didn’t contain as much cortisol as ear wax.
On top of that, researchers also stated that testing earwax was the quickest and most cost-effective means of testing cortisol. Since it contains cortisol from an extended period of time, earwax can be indicative of someone’s everyday stress levels, rather than simply their stress level on one particular day or after a stressful event, a press release for the study says.
Following the study, the scientists involved have been working to create a device that would allow people to safely procure a sample of their earwax at home. This sample would then be sent to a lab to be studied for cortisol, potentially helping people more easily receive diagnoses. With future innovation, these samples could also test for glucose levels and other markers of health, including COVID-19 antibodies.
It’s worth noting that a link between earwax and stress existed before this study, too: According to MedicalNewsToday, stressed people produce more earwax. Now we also know that the gunk is also chock-full of stress hormones. So, yes, you can be so stressed that it’s literally coming out of your ears.