Lifestyle and genetics, as well as various factors inside and outside of our control, have been linked to the development of metabolic syndrome, a group of diseases that increase the risk of major health problems. A new study finds that stress, due to its tendency to increase inflammation in the body, is also associated with metabolic syndrome, prompting researchers to propose that inexpensive and very simple stress-management approaches may be a strategy to help improve biological health outcomes.
“We were specifically examining people in midlife—a time critical to determining who will experience accelerated aging. Stress is an important contributor to a variety of negative health outcomes as we age,” said senior author Jasmeet Hayes, associate professor of psychology. Ohio State University. “There are many variables that affect metabolic syndrome, some we can’t change, but others we can. Everyone experiences stress,” Hayes said. “And stress management is a modifiable factor that is cost-effective as well as some people can do in their daily lives without involving medical professionals.” The research was recently published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity-Health.
Links between stress and biological health have been established, but few previous studies have looked specifically at the involvement of inflammation in the association of stress with the metabolic syndrome. People with metabolic syndrome are diagnosed with at least three of the five factors that increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other health problems – excess belly fat, high blood pressure, low HDL (good) cholesterol and high levels of fasting blood glucose and triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. This condition is also called insulin resistance syndrome.
Using data from a sample of 648 participants (average age 52) in a national survey of midlife in the United States, first author Savannah Jurgens developed a statistical model to determine how inflammation might fit between stress and the metabolic syndrome. Respondents’ reports of perceived stress, blood biomarkers for inflammation, and physical exam results indicating risk factors for metabolic syndrome were used for analysis.
“There’s not a lot of research that has looked at all three variables at once,” said Jurgens, a graduate student in psychology in Hayes’ lab. “There’s a lot of work that suggests that stress is associated with inflammation, inflammation is associated with metabolic syndrome, and stress is associated with metabolic syndrome. But it’s rare to put all these pieces together.”
Composite scores of inflammation were calculated using biomarkers that included the well-known IL-6 and C-reactive protein as well as E-selectin and ICAM-1, which help recruit white blood cells during inflammation, and fibrinogen, essential for blood clotting. a protein. . structure.
Statistical modeling showed that stress was associated with metabolic syndrome, and that inflammation explained more than half of that association—61.5%, to be exact. “Perceived stress had a small effect on metabolic syndrome, but inflammation explained a large proportion of it,” Jurgens said. The results made sense – stress is one of many factors that can send health markers into disarray. Other factors include inactivity, unhealthy diet, smoking and poor sleep, as well as a variety of behaviors including low socioeconomic status, advanced age and being female.
But considering that an estimated 1 in 3 American adults has metabolic syndrome, it’s important to know how to reduce the risk or prevent it altogether, Hayes said. The findings add to the evidence that stress, and its connection to inflammation, can have a major impact on biological health in general. “People think of stress as mental health, it’s all psychological. It’s not. Chronic stress has real physical effects,” Hayes said. “It could be inflammation, it could be metabolic syndrome or different things. It’s another reminder of that.”