Scientists in Britain said on Friday they had found evidence of why stress at work can raise the odds of developing heart disease and diabetes.
Researchers at University College London (UCL) have shown that work stress is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood pressure, raised cholesterol levels, high blood sugar and excess weight. The syndrome is a cluster of characteristics that can lead to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
“We found quite strong evidence that higher exposure to stress at work is associated with increased risk of the metabolic syndrome,” said Tarani Chandola of UCL.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) said the study provides a possible explanation for the link between stress and heart disease.
“The good news is that many of the features of the metabolic syndrome can be reversed or improved by lifestyle changes, in particular increasing exercise and losing weight, combined with stopping smoking,” Professor Peter Weissberg, the medical director of the BHF said in a statement.
In the study of more than 10,000 British civil servants published online by the British Medical Journal the scientists said the higher the stress levels reported by the employees the greater the risk of metabolic syndrome.
The scientists studied the stress levels of the civil servants over the past 20 years and compared them with components of metabolic syndrome, which were measured between 1997 and 1999.
They also recorded lifestyle factors such as drinking, smoking, eating habits and exercise.
Men with chronic work stress were nearly twice as likely to develop the syndrome than workers who reported little or no stress, according to the study.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD