Stress hormone sensitivity could increase the risk of heart disease

Cortisol is the primary stress hormone in the glucocorticoid class (GCs) of hormones. It plays a vital role in metabolism and healthy immune function. The hormone acts as anti-inflammatories and is routinely used to treat allergies, asthma, and other conditions involving an overactive immune system.

However, individuals respond differently to GCs. A test distinguishing between sensitive and resistant people would be very useful in improving treatment outcomes.

Proteins play a vital role in recognizing, transporting, and affecting the actions of hormones such as GCs. Identifying these protein profiles of sensitive and resistant people could indicate GC effectiveness.

It is well known that chronic stress is linked with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Although, the underlying physiological changes are not well understood.

A new study suggests that people who are particularly sensitive to stress hormones also exhibit markers that indicate they are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The study aimed to create a test that could differentiate between stress hormone-sensitive and resistant people. This will help clinicians better determine therapeutic outcomes and minimize adverse effects in those requiring glucocorticoid treatment.

Interestingly, the protein profile associated with glucocorticoid sensitivity included increased risk markers of stress-related disorders. It may point to new possibilities for diagnostics or therapy in these areas.

For the study, which involved 101 healthy volunteers, scientists determined whether a set of proteins could be identified to distinguish between GC-sensitive and resistant people. The participants were given a low dose of the GC, dexamethasone.

The participants were then ranked based on the most sensitive to most resistant by measuring their blood cortisol levels the following morning.

Using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, scientists identified the differences in protein profiles in the samples. The sensitive group had 110 upregulated and 66 downregulated proteins compared with the resistant group.

Few were associated with enhanced blood clotting, amyloid plaque formation in Alzheimer’s disease, and immune function of the upregulated proteins.

Dr. Nicolas Nicolaides in Athens, Greece, said“Our findings show, for the first time, how increased glucocorticoid sensitivity may be associated with stress-related disorders, including myocardial and brain infarctions, which could lead to new therapeutic interventions.”

“This was a small study, so further, larger studies are needed to confirm the differences observed between the glucocorticoid-sensitive and resistant people.”

“We speculate that if the most glucocorticoid sensitive people are exposed to excessive or prolonged stress, the resultant increased blood cell activation could predispose them to clot formation in the heart and brain, leading to heart attacks or strokes. We could potentially identify those at more risk and in need of stress management.”

The research is presented at the 59th Annual European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Meeting.

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