Dubai: Lifestyle and genetics are well-known players in the development of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions raising the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other health woes. But a new study sheds light on another culprit: stress. It turns out, stress's tendency to inflame the body also plays a role in metabolic syndrome, suggesting that affordable stress-management techniques could be a powerful tool for improving health outcomes.
When and how?
"We focused on midlife, a critical time for determining who experiences accelerated aging," explains senior author Jasmeet Hayes, an associate professor of psychology at The Ohio State University. "Stress significantly contributes to negative health outcomes as we age, and stress management is one modifiable factor everyone can incorporate into their daily lives without needing medical intervention."
The research, published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity - Health, delves into the understudied role of inflammation in the stress-metabolic syndrome connection. People with metabolic syndrome have at least three of five risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and other issues, including excess belly fat, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, high fasting blood glucose, and high triglycerides.
Using data from 648 participants in the Midlife in the United States survey, lead author Savana Jurgens, a psychology graduate student in Hayes' lab, built a statistical model to assess how inflammation bridges the gap between stress and metabolic syndrome. The analysis considered respondents' reported stress levels, inflammatory blood biomarkers, and physical exam results indicating metabolic syndrome risk factors.
'Rarely are all these pieces put together'
"Few studies have examined all three of these variables simultaneously," Jurgens notes. "While research suggests stress links to inflammation, inflammation to metabolic syndrome, and stress to metabolic syndrome, rarely are all these pieces put together."
The model included inflammation composite scores based on well-known biomarkers like IL-6 and C-reactive protein, along with E-selectin, ICAM-1 (both involved in white blood cell recruitment during inflammation), and fibrinogen (crucial for blood clot formation).
The analysis revealed a clear association between stress and metabolic syndrome, with inflammation explaining a whopping 61.5% of this connection.
"While perceived stress has a small direct effect on metabolic syndrome, inflammation plays a major role," Jurgens explains.
These findings make sense, as stress is just one of many factors that can disrupt health markers. Inactivity, unhealthy eating, smoking, poor sleep, low socioeconomic status, advanced age, and being female are other contributing factors.
However, with an estimated one in three American adults having metabolic syndrome, understanding how to manage or prevent it becomes crucial. This study adds to the growing body of evidence highlighting the significant impact of stress and its connection to inflammation on overall health.
"Stress is often viewed solely as a mental health issue, but its effects are far-reaching, with real physical consequences like inflammation, metabolic syndrome, and more," Hayes emphasizes. "This research serves as another reminder of the powerful influence stress has on our physical well-being."