A new study which has linked stress-induced inflammation to metabolic syndrome has prompted experts to highlight the “real physical effects to having chronic stress”.

Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions including 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.

The combination of these conditions increases the risk of serious health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.

New research has shown that stress, through its tendency to trigger inflammation, is linked to metabolic syndrome.

It means that stress-management techniques could prove to be an easy way to improve people’s health.

Senior author Jasmeet Hayes, associate professor of psychology at The Ohio State University, explained: “We were specifically examining people in midlife – a time that is critical to determine those who will experience accelerated aging. Stress is an important contributor to several negative health outcomes as we age.

“There are many variables that influence metabolic syndrome, some we can’t modify, but others that we can.

“Everybody experiences stress. And stress management is one modifiable factor that’s cost-effective as well as something people can do in their daily lives without having to get medical professionals involved.”

The research team took data from 648 people, with an average age of 52, to build a statistical model designed to evaluate the role of inflammation in the link between stress and metabolic syndrome.

The analysis used details from respondents’ self-reported stress levels; inflammation biomarkers; and physical exam results reporting risk factors for metabolic syndrome.

First author Savana Jurgens, who built the statistical model, said: “There’s not much research that has looked at all three variables at one time.

“There’s a lot of work that suggests stress is associated with inflammation, inflammation is associated with metabolic syndrome, and stress is associated with metabolic syndrome. But putting all those pieces together is rare.”

The team’s results demonstrate the relationship between stress and metabolic syndrome, with inflammation explaining around 61% of that relationship.

Jurgens said: “There is a small effect of perceived stress on metabolic syndrome, but inflammation explained a large proportion of that.”

Hayes went on to say: “People think of stress as mental health, that it’s all psychological. It is not. There are real physical effects to having chronic stress.

“It could be inflammation, it could be metabolic syndrome, or a number of things. This is another reminder of that.”

Read the study in Brain, Behavior, & Immunity – Health.

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