Stress, Heart Disease Linked

It's little surprise that 18- to 34-year-olds are at the heart of a nationwide increase in illegal drug use, and the manufacturing industry traditionally draws heavily from this pool of job seekers.

Even mild stress can increase risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease, research at the Ohio State University indicates.

A study of 34 healthy women between the ages of 40 and 63 pre-and postmenopausal who were asked to perform two stressful tasks found that there was a "significant elevation" in homocysteine levels in the blood during stress, according to study author Dr. Catherine M. Stoney, a professor of psychology at the Ohio State University. Typically, physiologic stress responses are less among women than men, and increase with age.

Homocysteine is an amino acid that, in levels exceeding the normal, is associated with cardiovascular disease because it can damage the arterial walls.

Stoney's research indicated that the level of homocysteine was elevated during stressful events; however, long-term effects of short-term stress and associated brief elevations of homocysteine are unknown. She is expanding her research to include male subjects and different age groups. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Similarly, a report published in a recent issue of Journal of the American Medical Association argued the need for further study as to whether lowering the level of homocysteine in the blood reduces the risk of heart attack.

Dr. Paul M. Ridker, who led the study, pointed out that, while folic acid supplements have been shown to lower homocysteine levels, their use has not been conclusively linked to reducing the risk of heart disease. Ridker's involvement in the Women's Health Study, sponsored by Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston and Abbott Laboratories, was a three-year study of healthy postmenopausal women who had no history of heart disease.

One hundred twenty-two women who developed heart disease were matched with similar subjects. Those who had the highest levels of homocysteine had the highest risk of developing heart disease. Ridker said there is not enough scientific evidence to recommend screening for homocysteine as a predictor of heart disease.

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