Workplace Stress and Heart Disease

United Kingdom. A stressful job has a direct biological impact on the body, raising the risk of heart disease, research has indicated. The study reported in the European Heart Journal focused on more than 10,000 British civil servants.

This new research has produced strong evidence of how work stress is linked to the biological mechanisms involved in the onset of heart disease.

It is the first large-scale study to look at the cardiovascular mechanisms of work stress in the population and provides the strongest evidence yet of the way it can lead to coronary heart disease (CHD), either directly, by activating stress pathways controlled by the interaction between the nervous system, the endocrine glands and their hormones (neuroendocrine mechanisms), or indirectly via its association with unhealthy lifestyles.

The research is part of the long-running Whitehall II study, which has been following 10,308 London-based civil servants since 1985, and which is led by Sir Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London, UK.

During 12 years of follow-up, it was found that chronic work stress was associated with CHD and this association was stronger among both men and women aged under 50 as their risk of CHD was an average of 68% more than for people who reported no stress at work.

The researchers also found work stress was associated with poor health behaviours that could lead indirectly to CHD. “There have been relatively few studies that have found an association between work stress and unhealthy behaviours. Work stress is associated with a poorer diet in terms of eating less fruit and vegetables, and less exercise. It has also been linked to problem drinking, although not in this study. In this study, around 32% of the effect of work stress on CHD could be explained by its effect on health behaviours and the metabolic syndrome,” he said.

He concluded: “This study demonstrates that cumulative stress at work can lead to CHD through direct activation of neuroendocrine stress pathways and indirectly through unhealthy behaviours.”

Source: European Society of Cardiology

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