Skip to main content
  1. Life
  2. Health & Fitness
  3. Nutrition

Stress, cortisol levels, and nutrition

See also

Senior citizen's stress levels can be measured with hair analysis, says a recent study that measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol during a course of months. Hair analysis reveals elevated stress hormone levels raise cardiovascular risk. Long-term cortisol exposure in seniors linked to heart disease, stroke, says a recent article, "High Long-Term Cortisol Levels, Measured in Scalp Hair are Associated with a History of Cardiovascular Disease," appearing in the May 2013 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

Hair strands contain valuable information about senior citizens' stress levels that can be used to determine an individual's cardiovascular disease risk, according to the recent study. Unlike a blood test that captures a snapshot of stress hormone levels at a single point in time, a scalp hair analysis can be used to view trends in levels of the stress hormone cortisol during the course of several months. This approach allows researchers to have a better sense of the variability in cortisol levels.

The study found seniors who had higher long-term levels of the stress hormone cortisol were more likely to have cardiovascular disease

"Like high blood pressure or abdominal fat, the findings suggest elevated cortisol levels are an important signal that an individual is at risk of cardiovascular disease," said one of the study's lead authors, Laura Manenschijn, MD, of Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, according to the April 17, 2013 news release, Hair analysis reveals elevated stress hormone levels raise cardiovascular risk. "Because scalp hair can capture information about how cortisol levels have changed over time, hair analysis gives us a better tool for evaluating that risk."

The study measured cortisol levels in a group of 283 community-dwelling senior citizens between the ages of 65 and 85

Participants were randomly selected from a large population-based cohort study. Using 3-centimeter-long hair samples taken from close to the scalp, researchers were able to measure cortisol levels from a three-month period. People with high cortisol levels were more likely to have a history of coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral arterial disease or diabetes.

"The data showed a clear link between chronically elevated cortisol levels and cardiovascular disease," said the study's other lead author, Elisabeth van Rossum, MD, PhD, of Erasmus MC, according to that news release. "Additional studies are needed to explore the role of long-term cortisol measurement as a cardiovascular disease predictor and how it can be used to inform new treatment or prevention strategies." Other researchers working on the study include: L. Schaap, N. van Schoor, S. van der Pas, G. Peeters and P. Lips of VU University Medical Center, and J. Koper of Erasmus MC. Also, you may want to take a look at the website of The Endocrine Society.

When it comes to nutrition, you don't need stimulating caffeine, chocolate, or central nervous system depressive foods or beverages at the time your body is perceiving stress when you don't want it to

You don't need foods that calm you down so much that you feel sedated or brain fog. You also may wish to check out the Dr. Stephen Sinatra's article, "Why More People Die On Mondays." One reason why more people die on Mondays is the cortisol and other stress hormones that surge because your body always remembers not only stressful events, but the anticipation of those events.

So, even though the participants in the study were not working, the fact that their bodies anticipated going to work on Monday triggered the identical biochemical stress hormones that led to potentially lethal ventricular arrhythmia. You also may want to check out the article, "People's perception of the effect of stress on their health is linked to risk of heart attacks."

Why do more heart attacks occur between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. than at any other time of day? A study reported in the journal Heart also showed that people who have a heart attack between 6 a.m. and 12 p.m. have 20 percent more damage to their heart tissue than those who have heart attacks at other times of the day.

If you're retired, some people think they may want to lay in bed and meditate or stretch in relaxing ways until 10:00 a.m. if the individual is genetically a highly reactive, high stress type who now is no longer required to get up and work in the early hours of the day.

Check out the study, "People who believe stress adversely affects their health may be at risk." In that the response to stress can vary greatly between individuals, a team of French researchers explored whether individuals who report that stress adversely affects their health are at increased risk for physical ailment, specifically – coronary heart disease (CHD). See the site, "Mind over Matter." You may think you can control mind over matter, but unless you know how to breathe slowly or calm yourself down, your body may take over as the hormones pour out the more you try to stop the stressful feelings.

Here's why, notes Dr. Sinatra: Cardiovascular events follow a circadian rhythm and they're also triggered by physical and emotional stresses. It's believed that your sympathetic nervous system is activated when you assume an upright position in the morning, increasing your levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This is why morning sex can trigger a heart attack in some people.

People's perception of the effect of stress on their health is linked to risk of heart attacks

People who believe that stress is having an adverse impact on their health are probably right, because they have an increased risk of suffering a heart attack, according to new research published online June 26, 2013 in the European Heart Journal. You can check out the original study or its abstract, "Increased risk of coronary heart disease among individuals reporting adverse impact of stress on their health: The Whitehall II prospective cohort study." Authors are Hermann Nabi, Mika Kivimäki, G David Batty, Martin J Shipley, Annie Britton, Eric J Brunner, Jussi Vahtera, Cédric Lemogne, Alexis Elbaz, and Archana Singh-Manoux. European Heart Journal, June 26, 2013.

The latest findings from the UK's Whitehall II study, which has followed several thousand London-based civil servants since 1985, found that people who believe stress is affecting their health "a lot or extremely" had double the risk of a heart attack compared to people who didn't believe stress was having a significant effect on their health. After adjusting for factors that could affect this result, such as biological, behavioral or psychological risk factors, they still had a 50% greater risk of suffering or dying from a heart attack.

The Whitehall II study is supported by grants from the Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (US), NIH (US), and the National Institute on Aging (US). Previous results from Whitehall II and other studies have already shown that stress can have an adverse effect on people's health, but this is the first time researchers have investigated people's perceptions of how stress is affecting their health and linked it to their risk of subsequent heart disease.

Individual differences are genetic

"This current analysis allows us to take account of individual differences in response to stress," said Dr Hermann Nabi, the first author of the study, according to the news release. Nabi is a senior research associate at the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at Inserm (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale), Villejuif, France. You may also want to take a look at the site, European Society of Cardiology. Some people die as a reaction to the anesthetic or even the fear of not surviving the anesthetic, depending on their genetic variations.

Dr Nabi and his colleagues from France, Finland and the UK, followed 7268 men and women for a maximum of 18 years from 1991 when the question about perceived impact of stress on health was first introduced into the questionnaire answered by study participants. The average age of the civil servants in this analysis was 49.5 and during the 18 years of follow-up there were 352 heart attacks or deaths as a result of heart attack (myocardial infarction).

The participants were asked to what extent they felt that stress or pressure they experienced in their lives had affected their health

They could answer: "not at all", "slightly", "moderately", "a lot", or "extremely". The researchers put their answers into three groups: 1) "not at all", 2) "slightly or moderately", and 3) "a lot or extremely".

The civil servants were also asked about their perceived levels of stress, as well as about other lifestyle factors that could influence their health, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, and levels of physical activity. Medical information, such as blood pressure, diabetes and body mass index, and socio-demographic data, such as marital status, age, sex, ethnicity and socio-economic status, was also collected. Data from the British National Health Service enabled researchers to follow the participants for subsequent years and to see whether or not they had a heart attack or died from it by 2009.

After adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics, civil servants who reported at the beginning of the study that their health had been affected "a lot or extremely" by stress had more than double the risk (2.12 higher) of having a heart attack or dying from it compared with those who reported no effect of stress on their health. After further adjustments for biological, behavioural and other psychological risk factors, including stress levels and measures of social support, the risk was not as great, but still higher – nearly half as much again (49% higher) – than that seen in people who reported no effect on their health.

Dr Nabi explained in the news release, "We found that the association we observed between an individual's perception of the impact of stress on their health and their risk of a heart attack was independent of biological factors, unhealthy behaviors and other psychological factors." He added: "One of the important messages from our findings is that people's perceptions about the impact of stress on their health are likely to be correct."

The authors say that their findings have far-reaching implications

Future studies of stress should include people's perceptions of its impact on their health. From a clinical point of view, doctors should consider patients' subjective perceptions and take them into account when managing stress-related health complaints.

Dr Nabi explained in the news release, "Our findings show that responses to stress or abilities to cope with stress differ greatly between individuals, depending on the resources available to them, such as social support, social activities and previous experiences of stress. Concerning the management of stress, I think that the first step is to identify the stressors or sources of stress, for example job pressures, relationship problems or financial difficulties, and then look for solutions.

"There are several ways to cope with stress, including relaxation techniques, physical activity, and even medications, particularly for severe cases. Finally, I think that the healthcare system has a role to play. The conclusion of a recent study conducted for the American Psychological Association tells us that health care systems are falling short on stress management, even though a significant proportion of people believe that the stress or pressure they experienced has an impact on their health."

In their conclusion, the authors write: "Although, stress, anxiety, and worry are thought to have increased in recent years, we found only participants (8%) who reported stress to have affected their health 'a lot or extremely' had an increased risk of CHD. In the future, randomized controlled trials are needed to determine whether disease risk can be reduced by increasing clinical attention to those who complain that stress greatly affects their health."

There are some limitations to the study, including the fact that it did not include blue-collar workers or the unemployed and therefore it may not be representative of the general population

Going to bed earlier in the evening puts you more in line with your body's natural sleep/wake cycle—and a good night's sleep is critical to heart health, you can read in Dr. Stephen Sinatra's article. His article notes how research has found is that a chronic lack of sleep heightens your sympathetic tone, which is a part of your autonomic nervous system. That in turn raises the adrenal-cortisone "stress" response in your body. The release of these stress chemicals increases your risk of developing not only heart disease and stroke, but also diabetes and high blood pressure.

How your body perceive stress even when you tell it logically not to, is what counts most

If you fear dental work on your teeth, no matter how much you tell yourself to calm down, when the needle hits your gum, if your body responds as if there were stress present, you'll feel the fear, especially if you have a genetic predisposition to have an adverse reaction in your brain from the specific ingredient in the the anesthetic. An example might be adverse reactions to carbon in the brain, acidosis in your brain, high cortisol levels, or a mixture of stress hormones being released.

Work pressure, tension at home, financial difficulties … the list of causes of stress grows longer every day. There have been several studies in the past showing that stress can have negative effects on health (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure and more).

In the study from the Inserm (INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale) researchers at unit 1018, of “The Epidemiology and Public Health Research Center,” working in collaboration with researchers from England and Finland have demonstrated that it is essential to be vigilant about this and to take it very seriously when people say that they are stressed, particularly if they believe that stress is affecting their health. So if someone feels stressed, it's time to stop and relax. In some instances you can't stop work, but you can relax. The problem comes up when you're driving a vehicle or flying a plane and feel stressed out. Somebody has to be there whose body isn't perceiving the situation as stressful as your body is at that moment.

According to the study performed by these researchers, with 7268 participants, such stressed out people have twice as much risk of a heart attack, compared with others, reports the June 27, 2013 news release, "Stress: It should never be ignored!" The results of a new new study says that the participants who reported, at the start of the study, that their health was “a lot” or “extremely” affected by stress had more than twice the risk (2.12 times higher) of having or dying from a heart attack, compared with those who had not indicated any effect of stress on their health. These results have been published in the European Heart Journal.

Today, stress is recognized as one of the main health problems

When people face a situation that is considered stressful, they may experience several physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms (anxiety, difficulty in concentrating, skin problems, migraines, etc.). Previous studies, particularly the recent studies performed within the Whitehall II cohort composed of several thousand British civil servants, have already shown that the physiological changes associated with stress can have an adverse effect on health.

Created in 1985, the Whitehall II cohort, consisting of British civil servants, is making a major contribution to research in social epidemiology and is considered internationally to be one of the main sources of scientific knowledge concerning social determinant factors for health. Herman Nabi, Inserm researcher at Unit 1018 “The Epidemiology and Public Health Research Center," and his team went further and studied people who declared themselves to be stressed, in order to look more closely at whether there was a link between their feeling and the occurrence of coronary disease some years later.

How high are the effects of stress on your health?

Using a questionnaire prepared for the Whitehall II cohort, the participants were invited to answer the following question: “to what extent do you consider the stress or pressure that you have experienced in your life has an effect on your health”, the participants had the following answers to choose from: “not at all,” “a little,” “moderately,” “a lot,” or “extremely.”

The participants were also asked about their stress level, as well as about other factors that might affect their health, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, diet and levels of physical activity. Arterial pressure, diabetes, body mass index and socio-demographic data such as marital status, age, sex, ethnicity and socio-economic status were also taken into account.

Stressed people had twice the risk of having a heart attack than those not stating they were under stress and it was bringing down their health

According to the results, the participants who reported, at the start of the study, that their health was “a lot” or “extremely” affected by stress had more than twice the risk (2.12 times higher) of having or dying from a heart attack, compared with those who had not indicated any effect of stress on their health.

From a clinical point of view, these results suggest that the patient’s perception of the impact of stress on their health may be highly accurate, to the extent that it can predict a health event as serious and common as coronary disease.

Capacities for dealing with stress differ between people depending upon resources

In addition, this study also shows that this link is not affected by differences between individuals related to biological, behavioral or psychological factors. However, capacities for dealing with stress do differ massively between individuals depending on the resources available to them, such as support from close friends and family.

Check out the June 27, 2013 news release, "Stress: It should never be ignored!" According to Hermann Nabi,“The main message is that complaints from patients concerning the effect of stress on their health should not be ignored in a clinical environment, because they may indicate an increased risk of developing and dying of coronary disease. Future studies of stress should include perceptions of patients concerning the effect of stress on their health."

In the future, as Hermann Nabi emphasizes in the news release, “Tests will be needed to determine whether the risk of disease can be reduced by increasing the clinical attention given to patients who complain of stress having an effect on their health”. For more information, check out the site, "INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale)."

Advertisement

Related Videos:

  • The trouble with life saving cures
    <iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/7YFS5qlAzgc?rel=0?rel=0&amp;VQ=HD720&amp;allowfullscreen=true&amp;autoplay=1"></iframe>
  • Favorite building blocks of cancer
    <iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/sJGS3jdjJGE?rel=0?rel=0&amp;VQ=HD720&amp;allowfullscreen=true&amp;autoplay=1"></iframe>
  • CBD oil. Next miracle supplement?
    <iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/tAFu-Ihwyzg?rel=0?rel=0&amp;VQ=HD720&amp;allowfullscreen=true&amp;autoplay=1"></iframe>