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Our ears keep a biochemical “browsing history” of our body

William Rux

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The whales do not use cotton buds although (and this is a message for all manufacturers and commercials) they could do no harm. Annually, many species add a layer of wax over the layers of previous years creating a kind of historical ceruminous that can be read like the growth rings of tree trunks . Earwax, as you can see, is a serious thing.

Also in humans. So much so that a team from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London has managed to create a home test that uses earwax to measure levels of cortisol , known as the “stress hormone”. Something that, according to the researchers , seeks to “transform the diagnosis and care of millions of people with depression or stress-related conditions.” And beyond its final impact, it is without a doubt a curious approach.

The dark secrets of earwax (and the not-so-dark ones)

Fight infections, regulate blood sugar, maintain blood pressure, regulate metabolism and, of course, respond to stress. Cortisol is involved in all of these processes. It’s an important hormone, but, as UCL’s Herane-Vives notes , ” Cortisol sampling is notoriously difficult, as levels of the hormone can fluctuate , so a sample might not be an accurate reflection of chronic levels. of a person’s cortisol. Additionally, the sampling methods themselves can induce stress and influence the results. “

Therefore, when we want to study cortisol levels over time, we usually do without blood, urine or saliva tests and end up using hair analyzes. The new system not only seems very stable, but it would be “faster, cheaper and more efficient” than these hair tests , always according to the results that the team has presented .

The device resembles a cotton swab (with a kind of brake to prevent it from penetrating too far into the ear and causing damage) and, according to the researchers, is so easy to apply that it could lighten the care diagnosis of related diseases such as cortisol, especially Addison’s disease, Cushing’s syndrome, and depression .

But they don’t want to stop there, because once the potential of earwax to uncover our darkest biochemical secrets has been discovered , Herane-Vives and her team have begun to study whether the same system could make a history of the levels of glucose or even Covid-19 antibodies.