LONDON — People who have money issues are more likely to suffer serious health consequences. A new study conducted by researchers at University College London (UCL) has established a connection between stressful life events and a decline in biological health, according to key biomarkers.
Researchers explain that their study provides insight into how stress affects our body’s crucial systems. They focused on the interplay between the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems, which are essential for maintaining good health. Disruptions in the communication between these systems can lead to various mental and physical illnesses, including heart disease, depression, and schizophrenia.
Stress triggers a response that activates these systems, leading to physiological and behavioral changes. The UCL study analyzed blood concentrations of four biomarkers in over 4,900 participants aged 50 and older from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. These biomarkers included two proteins related to inflammation (C-reactive protein and fibrinogen) and two hormones involved in stress response (cortisol and IGF-1).
Using a sophisticated method known as latent profile analysis, the researchers identified three distinct groups based on biomarker activity, labeled as low, moderate, and high risk to health. They then explored how past exposure to stress influenced the likelihood of individuals falling into the high-risk group.
The findings were striking. Exposure to stressful events, ranging from caregiving responsibilities to bereavement or divorce, was associated with a 61-percent increase in the probability of being in the high-risk group four years later. Moreover, this effect was cumulative: for each additional stressor, the likelihood of being in the high-risk category rose by 19 percent.
Financial strain, defined as the concern over having sufficient financial resources for future needs, stood out as particularly harmful. Individuals facing financial stress were 59 percent more likely to be in the high-risk group after four years.
“When the immune and neuroendocrine systems function well together, homeostasis is maintained and health is preserved. But chronic stress can disrupt this biological exchange and lead to disease,” says study lead author Odessa Hamilton, a PhD candidate at the UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care, in a university release.
“We found that financial stress was most detrimental to biological health, although more research is needed to establish this for certain. This may be because this form of stress can invade many aspects of our lives, leading to family conflict, social exclusion, and even hunger or homelessness.”
The study also examined genetic factors but found that the relationship between stress and the risk of poor biological health remained consistent, regardless of genetic predisposition.
This research was supported by several prestigious institutions, including the National Institute on Aging, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and UCL.
The study is published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.