woman spitting water
August 30, 2010

Spit Your Stress Away

Forget biting your nails: if you’re feeling some anxiety, try spitting. We thought the eyes were the window to our soul, but maybe it’s really our tongue. A recent review of eight studies examined scientists’ use of saliva to read stress levels. Saliva contains cortisol, a hormone that kicks in when the body is under strain to increase both blood sugar and pressure, while simultaneously saving energy by slowing the digestive, reproductive, and immune systems.  Researchers hope to use these cortisol samples to more accurately determine stress levels.

One of the most popular current treatments for anxiety is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSRB). Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises have all been proven to help reduce stress. Mind-body therapy techniques teach patients to focus on the present and to learn how to recognize, yet not be defeated by, stressors as they surface. Though MBSR is considered a successful approach for many, the only significant way of gauging its achievements are through the patients’ self-assessments.

While self-reports can be helpful, they are not considered concrete data. In particular with stress, most people say they are “stressed out” on a regular basis. Everyone is under stress, and has stressful events pop up each and everyday. However, for some people the stress they are under is taking a toll on their health. Heart disease and other physical illnesses have been directly linked to high stress levels. Using saliva to measure cortisol readings could help clinically measure the effectiveness of MBSR and other related treatments. Plus, it could help doctors determine which patients are experiencing dangerous levels of stress.

Though cortisol runs throughout our entire body and can be found and measured in plasma and urine – spit is obviously the simplest way to do a quick test. According to the review, several studies have already utilized this method, collecting drool after MBSR activities such as meditation.  Thus far, these studies using cortisol readings for their measurements are still in the early stages. For example, some of the current studies have been small in size. Interestingly, cortisol has emerged as a valuable tool in other areas of research too, including PTSD and childhood obesity.

In the meantime, try and relax. There are other methods to measure stress levels such as through body temperature, which is how a mood ring works. For at-home ways to track your stress, try ordering a Biodot Skin thermometer.

The answers to our anxiety issues may be within spitting distance!