Simple spit and blood test could reveal if you’re on the point of burnout

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

WASHINGTON - A new research suggests that simple spit and blood tests can detect burnout before it happens.

Researchers Sonia Lupien and Robert-Paul Juster of the University of Montreal also found that if burnouts are ignored they might put distressed workers at a greater risk of physical and psychological problems.

“We hypothesized that healthy workers with chronic stress and with mild burnout symptoms would have worse physiological dysregulations and lower cortisol levels - a profile consistent with burnout,” said Juster.

The levels of stress hormone cortisol are often high in people suffering from depression, while it tends to be low in cases of burnout.

Chronic stress and misbalanced cortisol levels can exert a kind of domino effect on connected biological systems. The term ‘allostatic load’ represents the physiological problems or ‘wear and tear’ that ensue in these different systems related to risks for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and immune problems.

The researchers found that analysing a sample of spit was an excellent way to detect abnormally low levels of cortisol - a clear warning sign of impending burnout.

For their study, the researchers tested cortisol levels in 30 middle-aged participants.

In addition to undergoing routine blood measures that assessed allostatic load, participants were instructed to collect saliva at home and during a laboratory paradigm.

They also filled out questionnaires related to their current stress levels as well as symptoms of depression and burnout.

“For conditions like burnout where we have no consensus on diagnostic criteria and where there is overlap with symptoms of depression, it is essential to use multiple methods of analysis. One potential signature of burnout appears to be fatigued production of the stress hormone cortisol and dysregulations of the physiological systems that interact with this stress hormone,” said the researchers.

Critically, people with burnout are often treated with anti-depressant medications that lower cortisol levels. If cortisol is already lower than it should be, this course of treatment could represent a therapeutic mistake.

“In an effort to advance person-centered approaches in prevention and treatment strategies, we have to investigate the biopsychosocial signatures of specific diseases,” said Lupien.

The study was published in Psychoneuroendocrinology. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

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