50+ health * Healthy living

Stress hormone linked to heart disease and early death

stress and cortisol Five-fold increase in deaths

High levels of the stress hormone cortisol increase the risk of an early death from heart and circulatory disease, a new study has found.

In stressful situations, the body responds by producing the hormone cortisol to help it to react quickly as part of the flight or fight response.

However, past research has suggested that people with constantly raised levels of cortisol may be at a greater risk of an early death from cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, heart attacks, heart failure and stroke.

Now scientists from the Netherlands say their findings directly link the stress hormone with an increased risk of death from heart and circulatory disease.

In the study, the researchers analysed data from 861 people aged 65 and older. Urine samples were tested for cortisol levels at the start of the study. In the following six years, 41 of the participants died from heart disease.

Those with the highest levels of cortisol in urine samples were five times more likley to die from heart disease compared with those with the lowest levels.

The findings are to be published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

However, there was no increased risk of death due to causes other than heart and circulatory disease.

"Cortisol is an important component of the stress system of the human body but in higher concentrations can be harmful," said study leader Dr Nicole Vogelzangs at the University Medical Centre in The Netherlands.

"Our study shows that older persons with high levels of cortisol have an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease."

Ellen Mason, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation said: “Stress is already associated with an increased risk of heart disease and this study throws up more evidence about the role of cortisol.

“However, there are other chemicals in our body besides cortisol which play a part when we’re stressed out. So although this study helps, there is still a lot left to learn.

“It’s important we all try and find ways to cope with stress which don’t involve unhealthy habits that increase your risk of heart disease, such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and eating foods high in saturated fat and salt.”

This article was published on Fri 10 September 2010



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