Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What’s Stress Got to Do With It?: The Many Ways That Stress Impacts Our Health

Health care providers often tell me that they came to my lectures to learn about something for their patients, but they ended up finding something useful for themselves. They could be suffering from chronic pain, or heart disease, or metabolic syndrome. But they didn’t know that psychological stress was often a key part of why they were sick--and could even kill them.

In one of the first major studies in this field, researchers noted that people who were taking care of spouses with Alzheimer’s were dying at higher than rates than their non-caregiving peers. They were developing heart disease and cancer and other fatal diseases. I often think of Christopher Reeves' wife. Had caring for her severely disabled husband contributed to her own early death?

Researchers have also studied the link between depression and heart disease. Did you know that depression is a well-known risk factor for heart disease? Or that depression, hostility and other negative mental states increases your risk of developing diabetes?

Along these same lines, researchers have discovered that depression, stress or anxiety during pregnancy dramatically increases the risk of preterm birth. We are now beginning to understand why that would be so.

Sleep problems are another fascinating area of study. A lot of people know that sleep problems increase this risk of heart disease and diabetes. But what you might not realize is why they do.

The answer to these questions has to do with how humans respond to stress. And that is the focus of our installment. Stay tuned!

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