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Elevated stress hormones raise the risk of heart problems

A new study published in American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension found that elevated levels of stress hormones increase the risk of developing hypertension and other cardiovascular problems.

The researchers measured levels of norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine (neurotransmitters known as catecholamines, which have a fundamental role in maintaining the stability of the autonomous nervous system), as well as cortisol (a steroid hormone regulated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which modulates stress response). The analysis was focused on 412 participants between the ages of 48 to 87 years who had normal blood pressure at the beginning of the study. 

“Although all of these hormones are produced in the adrenal gland, they have different roles and mechanisms to influence the cardiovascular system, so it is important to study their relationship with hypertension and cardiovascular events, individually,” said study lead author Kosuke Inoue, an assistant professor of Social Epidemiology at the University of Kyoto in Japan. 

Between 2005 and 2018, participants were followed by three more visits to assess whether they experienced any subsequent cardiovascular problems. The scientists discovered that during a follow-up period of 6.5 years, each time the levels of the stress hormones doubled, there was a 21 to 31 percent increase in the risk of developing hypertension. 

Furthermore, during a follow-up period of 11.2 years, each doubling of the cortisol levels triggered a 90 percent increase in the risk of experiencing cardiovascular events.

“The stress hormones norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine and cortisol can increase with stress from life events, work, relationships, finances and more. And we confirmed that stress is a key factor contributing to the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular events,” said Professor Inoue. 

“Previous research focused on the relationship between stress hormone levels and hypertension or cardiovascular events in patients with existing hypertension. However, studies looking at adults without hypertension were lacking.”

“It is important to examine the impact of stress on adults in the general population because it provides new information about whether routine measurement of stress hormones needs to be considered to prevent hypertension and CVD events.”

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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