Health and Fitness News and Notes

Stress Disorders Tied to Autoimmune Disease

Having a stress-related psychiatric condition may increase the risk for autoimmune disease, a new study concludes.

Stress is known to cause physiological changes, including changes in immune function, but evidence that links it to specific diseases is limited.

This study, in JAMA, used a Swedish database of 106,464 patients who had a severe stress condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress reaction or adjustment disorder. They compared them with 1,064,640 people free of stress-related disorders and with 126,652 of their stress-free siblings.

During an average 10 years of follow-up, there were 8,284 cases of autoimmune disease among those diagnosed with a stress disorder, 57,711 among those without one, and 8,151 among the unstressed siblings.

After controlling for other risk factors, they found that compared with those who had not had severe stress, those with any stress-related disorder were 36 percent more likely to have an autoimmune disease, and 29 percent more likely than their unstressed siblings. People with a PTSD diagnosis were at especially high risk — they were 46 percent more likely to develop an autoimmune illness.

“Stress really affects long-term health,” said the lead author, Dr. Huan Song, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Iceland. “It affects not only psychiatric health, but leaves people vulnerable to other diseases. There are many treatments now available for stress-related disorders, and it’s important for people to get treatment early.”

Marriage May Be Good for Your Heart

Being married may reduce the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular death, a review of studies has found.

Researchers pooled data on more than 2 million participants in 34 studies carried out in the United States, Britain, Japan, Russia, Sweden, Spain, Greece and eight other countries.

They found that compared with married people, those who were unmarried — whether never married, widowed or divorced — were 42 percent more likely to have some form of cardiovascular disease and 16 percent more likely to have coronary heart disease. The unmarried also had a 43 percent increased likelihood of coronary heart disease death and a 55 percent increased risk for death from stroke. Stroke risk was increased for the unmarried and divorced, but not for the widowed.

The authors acknowledge that the study, published in Heart, has several weaknesses. While most analyses adjusted for multiple variables, these varied across studies, and some factors were not accounted for, including financial stability, medication adherence and social support.

“The extent of family support is challenging to determine,” said a co-author of the study, Dr. Chun Shing Kwok, a cardiologist at Keele University in England, “even if you capture the effect of cohabitation.”

Is marriage more advantageous for men or for women? Kwok’s response was cautious. “Our findings suggest both men and women benefit from marriage,” he said.

Midlife Fitness May Protect Against Later Depression

Physical fitness in middle age is tied to a lower risk of later-life depression and death from cardiovascular disease, a new study reports.

Both depression and cardiovascular disease are common in older people, and rates of depression are high in the presence of cardiovascular illness, especially stroke. Moreover, depression is a risk factor for adverse outcomes in cardiovascular disease patients.

Researchers examined 17,989 men and women, average age 50, from 1971-2009, gathering health and behavioral information, including data on aerobic fitness. They followed them from the time they initiated Medicare coverage through 2013. There were 2,701 diagnoses of depression and 841 cardiovascular deaths. The study is in JAMA Psychiatry.

Depression and cardiovascular disease rates declined steadily as fitness in middle age increased. Compared with those in the lowest fitness category, people in the highest were 16 percent less likely to have depression, 61 percent less likely to have cardiovascular illness without depression, and 56 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease after becoming depressed.

“There is a long-term connection between fitness, depression and cardiovascular death,” said the lead author, Dr. Benjamin L. Willis, director of epidemiology at the Cooper Institute in Dallas. “And it’s something you can approach with modifiable behavior. It’s never too late to get off the couch and start having some physical activity.”

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