According to a new study, anxious young men and men who worry more are at greater risk of developing the cardiometabolic disease. Such men need to pay extra attention to maintaining a healthy weight and taking blood pressure or cholesterol medicines if required.
The study- on men in the U.S.- suggests that more high-risk factors for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes developed earlier in life among those who reported more feelings of worry or felt overwhelmed than those with lower levels of worry.
Lewina Lee, Ph.D., lead author of the study, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, said, “While the participants were primarily white men, our findings indicate higher levels of anxiousness or worry among men are linked to biological processes that may give rise to heart disease and metabolic conditions, and these associations may be present much earlier in life than is commonly appreciated — potentially during childhood or young adulthood.”
Scientists tracked the relationship between anxiety and cardiometabolic disease risk factors by analyzing data on participants in the Normative Aging Study, a longitudinal study of aging processes in men, founded at the U.S. Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Boston in 1961.
This analysis included 1,561 men (97% white), who were an average age of 53 years in 1975. The men completed baseline assessments of Neuroticism and worry and did not have cardiovascular disease or cancer at that time. A personality inventory assessed Neuroticism on a scale of 0-9. In addition, a worry assessment tool asked how often they worried about each of 20 items, with 0 meaning never and four meaning all the time.
Lee said, “Neuroticism is a personality trait characterized by a tendency to interpret situations as threatening, stressful, and/or overwhelming. Individuals with high levels of Neuroticism are prone to experience negative emotions — such as fear, anxiety, sadness, and anger — more intensely and more frequently.”
“Worry refers to our attempts at problem-solving around an issue whose future outcome is uncertain and potentially positive or negative. Worry can be adaptive, for example, when it leads us to constructive solutions. However, worry can also be unhealthy, especially when it becomes uncontrollable and interferes with our day-to-day functioning.”
After a basic assessment, each man had to undergo a physical examination and blood tests every 3-5 years until they died or dropped out of the study. The research team used follow-up data through 2015. During follow-up visits, seven cardiometabolic risk factors were measured: systolic (top number) blood pressure; diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure; total cholesterol; triglycerides; obesity (assessed by body mass index); fasting blood sugar levels; and the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), a marker of inflammation.
If the test results for the risk factor were higher than the cut-point, the risk factor for the cardiometabolic disease was considered to be increased. Cut points for ESR as a risk factor are not standardized, so the participant was ranked as high-risk if they were in the top 25% of those tested.
Lee said, “Having six or more high-risk cardiometabolic markers suggests that an individual is very likely to develop or has already developed the cardiometabolic disease.”
“We found that cardiometabolic disease risk increased as men aged, from their 30s into their 80s, irrespective of anxiety levels, while men who had higher levels of anxiety and worry consistently had a higher likelihood of developing a cardiometabolic disease over time than those with lower levels of anxiety or worry.”
The study highlights:
- Between ages 33 to 65, the average number of cardiometabolic high-risk factors increased by about one per decade, averaging 3.8 risk-factors by age 65, followed by a slower increase per decade after age 65.
- At all ages, participants with higher levels of Neuroticism had a greater number of high-risk cardiometabolic factors.
- Higher Neuroticism was associated with a 13% higher likelihood of having six or more cardiometabolic disease risk factors after adjusting for demographic characteristics (such as income and education) and family history of heart disease.
- Higher worry levels were associated with a 10% higher likelihood of having six or more cardiometabolic disease risk factors after adjusting for demographic characteristics.
While it remains elusive whether treatment of anxiety and worry may lower one’s cardiometabolic risk, the study strongly recommends young men take care of their cardiometabolic health.
- Lewina O. Lee, Kevin J. Grimm, Avron Spiro, Laura D. Kubzansky. Neuroticism, Worry, and Cardiometabolic Risk Trajectories: Findings From a 40‐Year Study of Men. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2022; DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.121.022006