Financial stress can affect more than just a person’s mental health.
A nationally representative study from the United Kingdom found evidence that stress over money is associated with long-term changes in key health markers, including those associated with the immune system, the nervous system, and the hormonal system.
Scientists from University College London (UCL) and King’s College in the UK say their analysis is the first to explore how different types of chronic stress relate to markers of health in older groups.
The study data included nearly 5,000 adults over the age of 50.
Of all six common stressors examined in this group – including financial stress, caregiving, disability, bereavement, illness and divorce – financial stress was associated with the riskiest health profile in the long run.
These risk profiles were established using four biomarkers in the blood: cortisol, which is a hormone produced in response to stress, C-reactive protein (CRP) and fibrinogen, which are immune players that respond to inflammation, and insulin. -Growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which is linked to aging and longevity.
Participants in the study who reported being generally stressed were 61 percent more likely to belong to the high-risk category than those in the medium- or low-risk categories in the four-year follow-up study.
However, those who were stressed due to finances alone were nearly 60 percent more likely to show a high-risk profile four years later.
For each additional stressor, such as divorce, the chances increased by 19 percent.
These associations remained significant regardless of genetics, socioeconomics, age, gender or lifestyle factors.
“We found that financial stress was the most damaging to biological health, although more research is needed to establish this definitively,” says UCL epidemiologist Odessa Hamilton.
“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 results do not mean that stress is directly causing long-term health problems, but it does suggest that stress has a significant impact on the aging body, and that some forms of stress have more physical consequences than others. There may be effects.
Acute stress is known to trigger hormonal changes in the body, which increase breathing, blood pressure and heart rate. The immune system also responds by producing more pro-inflammatory molecules.
This is why living in high states of stress can lead to chronic immune overactivation, which can aggravate physical and mental illnesses.
“When the immune and neuroendocrine systems work well together, homeostasis is maintained and health is protected,” explains Hamilton.
“But chronic stress can disrupt this biological exchange and lead to disease.”
In the present study, financial stress, bereavement, and long-term illness showed the greatest long-term changes in immune and neuroendocrine biomarkers. This indicates the ongoing physical effects of long-term stress.
Of course, the four biomarkers are limited in what they can actually tell us about human health. For example, in the present study, higher alcohol consumption (more than three drinks a week), was associated with a lower risk profile.
This may be due to the fact that alcohol has anti-inflammatory effects, but this does not mean that increasing alcohol drinking is beneficial to human health overall.
The majority of participants included in the current analysis were white, which also limits what can be said about the associations, especially as ethnic groups experience higher levels of stress overall.
Nevertheless, UCL researchers conclude that “the synergistic immune and neuroendocrine response to stress represents an important target for clinical intervention. Intervening on these processes may alter the course of disease.”