A recent study by Constantine Tsigos et al., published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation (EJCI) indicates that the presence of ‘medically unexplainable symptoms’ (MUS) is an index of chronic stress and inflammation, and that advanced bioimpedance analysis may provide a useful, bloodless and rapid tool in the clinical setting.
Chronic stress plays two major damaging roles in the body.
First, through classic hormones, such as the catecholamines and cortisol, it elevates arterial blood pressure, causes dislipidemia, blood hypercoagulation and glucose intolerance – all the way to diabetes type 2 – and changes the body composition, i.e. decreasing muscle and bone masses and increasing fat deposits, especiallly inside the abdomen.
Second, stress increases inflammatory cytokine secretion both directly, by stimulating immune cells, and, indirectly, by increasing body fat, which itself produces proinflammatory molecules. The above changes combined are strongly atherogenic, leading to cardiovascular and neurovascular disease.
Clinically, chronic stress induces dysphoric feelings, i.e. anxiety and depression symptoms, psychosomatic complaints, such as fatigue, various pains, including headache and low back pain, and/or somatic changes consistent with chronic stress, such as overweight, obesity, increased visceral adiposity and loss of lean body mass, i.e. sarcopenia and osteopenia.
With regard to the study by Constantine Tsigos et al. it should not be a surprise that patients who present to their physicians with ‘nonspecific’ or MUS also have high evening cortisol levels, i.e. chronic flattening of their circadian cortisol rhythm, elevated serum concentrations of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 and body discomposition compatible with chronic stress. See article by Tsigos et al., EJCI.
Presence of MUS and changes in body composition are thus characteristic of exposure to chronic stress. Advanced impedometers, such as that employed in the Tsigos study, are an easy and rapid means of diagnosing chronic stress and suggesting important changes in lifestyle, including good nutrition, proper sleep habits and moderate exercise.
Stress management, using meditation and/or other proven techniques by patients and, even better, by everybody, including their treating physicians, helps stabilize mood at a higher level and improves compliance to recommendations for favorable lifestyle changes.