DIY smartphone hormone tests are coming

We’ve written before about the rise in smartphone test apps and how the trend for at-home health screening is only set to grow. Now scientists have told a conference that the next step will likely be do-it-yourself tests to check levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Dr Joel Ehrenkranz and his team from Intermountain Healthcare in Utah recently presented a paper at ICE/ENDO 2014, the joint meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society in Chicago.

They revealed that they’ve invented a new testing system to measure levels of salivary cortisol using any smartphone. Changes in cortisol levels can be a sign of hypercortisolism, Cushing’s disease, which is sometimes misdiagnosed as diabetes, and the 10% of depressed people who experience psychotic episodes. Raised cortisol is also a sign of stress, so being able to measure our own levels could lead to better self-care. Used by doctors, it could be especially useful in areas with few resources as it’s so cheap: it costs around $1 (58p) to make whereas standard tests cost at least $50 (£29).

The downside is, it’s not glamorous: users slip a saliva collector under the tongue, then that’s added to a test strip that’s inserted into a reader. The reader lines up a lens and light diffuser with your phone’s camera and within minutes, an accompanying app can analyse the cortisol value. Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health wants to introduce the test as a consumer product to measure stress later this year and the team hopes that in 2015, the test will be granted approval as a medical device in the US, with the rest of the world to follow.

Of course, if you want to use your phone to get an idea of your stress hormone levels in the meantime, there’s a tried and tested method you can use: count exactly how many ALL CAPS texts you’ve been sending.

Image via the Highways Agency’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley