Researchers look to breath to identify stress

February 27, 2013
Researchers look to breath to identify stress

(Phys.org)—The perennial stress-buster—a deep breath—could become stress-detector, claims a team of researchers from the UK.

According to a new , published today, 28 February, in the Journal of Breath Research, there are six markers in the breath that could be candidates for use as indicators of .

The researchers hope that findings such as these could lead to a quick, simple and non-invasive test for measuring stress; however, the study, which involved just 22 subjects, would need to be scaled-up to include more people, over a wider range of ages and in more "normal" settings, before any concrete conclusions can be made, they state.

Lead-author of the study, Professor Paul Thomas, said: "If we can measure stress objectively in a non-invasive way, then it may benefit patients and vulnerable people in long-term care who find it difficult to disclose stress responses to their carers, such as those suffering from Alzheimer's."

The study, undertaken by researchers at Loughborough University and Imperial College London, involved 22 (10 male and 12 female) who each took part in two sessions: in the first, they were asked to sit comfortably and listen to non-stressful music; in the second, they were asked to perform a common mental arithmetic test that has been designed to induce stress.

A was taken before and after each session, whilst heart-rates and blood pressures were recorded throughout. The breath samples were examined using a technique known as , and then statistically analysed and compared to a library of compounds.

Two compounds in the breath – 2-methyl, pentadecane and indole – increased following the stress exercise which, if confirmed, the researchers believe could form the basis of a .

A further four compounds were shown to decrease with stress, which could be due to changes in breathing patterns.

"What is clear from this study is that we were not able to discount stress. It seems sensible and prudent to test this work with more people over a range of ages in more normal settings.

"We will need to think carefully about experimental design in order to explore this potential relationship further as there are ethical issues to consider when deliberately placing volunteers under stress. Any follow up study would need to be led by experts in stress," Professor Thomas continued.

Breath profiling has become an attractive diagnostic method for clinicians, and recently researchers have found biomarkers associated with tuberculosis, multiple cancers, pulmonary disease and asthma. It is still unclear how to best manage external factors, such as diet, environment and exercise, which can affect a person's breath sample.

"It is possible that stress markers in the breath could mask or confound other key compounds that are used to diagnose a certain disease or condition, so it is important that these are accounted for," said Professor Thomas.

The researcher's initial assumptions are that stressed people breathe faster and have increased pulse rates and an elevated blood-pressure, which is likely to change their breath profile. They emphasise, however, that it is too soon to postulate the biological origins and the roles of the compounds as part of a stress-sensitive response.

Explore further: A breath-takingly simple test for human exposure to potentially toxic substances

More information: "The effect of paced auditory serial addition test (PASAT) intervention on the profile of volatile organic compounds in human breath: a pilot study" J. Breath Res. 7 017102. iopscience.iop.org/1752-7163/7/1/017102

Related Stories

Breath test identifies bacteria's fingerprint

January 10, 2013

(Phys.org)—Scientists have identified the chemical 'fingerprints' given off by specific bacteria when present in the lungs, potentially allowing for a quick and simple breath test to diagnose infections such as tuberculosis.

Recommended for you

New polymer able to store energy at higher temperatures

July 30, 2015

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers at the Pennsylvania State University has created a new polymer that is able to store energy at higher temperatures than conventional polymers without breaking down. In their paper published ...

How to look for a few good catalysts

July 30, 2015

Two key physical phenomena take place at the surfaces of materials: catalysis and wetting. A catalyst enhances the rate of chemical reactions; wetting refers to how liquids spread across a surface.

Yarn from slaughterhouse waste

July 29, 2015

ETH researchers have developed a yarn from ordinary gelatine that has good qualities similar to those of merino wool fibers. Now they are working on making the yarn even more water resistant.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.