Increased stress during adolescence and young adulthood is associated with an increased risk of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and other cardiometabolic risk factors that can ultimately lead to life-threatening cardiovascular disease.
In a recent study, experts at the University of Southern California (USC) examined how stress from childhood into adulthood influences cardiometabolic risk in adulthood. The results can be read in the “Journal of the American Heart Association” (JAHA).
Influence of stress analyzed
The team analyzed data from the so-called Southern California Children’s Health Study, in which the participants were enrolled as children. The participants took part in a follow-up examination at an average age of 13 years and at the age of 24 years.
In each phase of the study, feelings of stress were assessed using a four-point scale. In addition, participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their feelings and thoughts during the study.
Based on this risk assessment, the participants were divided into four groups: consistently high levels of stress over time, decreasing levels of stress over time, increasing levels of stress over time and consistently low levels of stress over time, the researchers explain.
Cardiometabolic risk determined
To assess cardiometabolic risk in young adulthood, measurements of carotid intima-media thickness, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, weight, body fat percentage, fat distribution, and hemoglobin A1c levels were performed.
Hemoglobin A1c measures blood sugar levels over time, increased thickness of the inner layers of the cervical artery can indicate circulatory problems, and increased fat around the abdomen is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and/or type 2 diabetes , explains the team.
Stress worsens cardiometabolic health
The results suggest that stress has profound effects on various cardiometabolic measures over time, such as fat distribution, vascular health and obesity, said study author Dr. Fangqi Guo in a press release.
A consistently high level of stress from adolescence into adulthood is associated with an increased risk of cardiometabolic diseases in young adulthood, the researchers add.
Participants who had higher levels of stress from adolescence to adulthood had an increased risk of poorer vascular health, more total body fat, more abdominal fat and a higher risk of obesity compared to less stressed people, the experts report.
Stress increases the risk of cardiovascular disease
In general, it can be said that a higher level of stress is associated with a higher risk of cardiometabolic diseases. According to the researchers, adults with a higher level of stress also tended to have poorer vascular health and were more likely to suffer from higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
“Although we expected that perceived stress patterns should have some association with cardiometabolic measures, we did not expect these patterns to be so consistent across different risk factors,” adds Dr. Guo added.
Early interventions to reduce stress make sense
Experts believe that interventions that reduce early stress could be more beneficial than other interventions that target risk factors for cardiovascular disease later in life.
“Understanding the impact of perceived stress that begins in childhood is important to prevent, reduce, or manage higher cardiometabolic risk factors in young adulthood,” emphasizes Dr. Guo.