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Stress hormone linked to heart damage

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Consistently high levels of the stress hormone cortisol can damage a person’s heart, research has shown.

Scientists in the Netherlands said their study is the first to have been able to pinpoint a connection between high levels of cortisol, which the body produces when under stress, and the risk of heart disease.

The University Medical Centre in Utrecht found that cortisol damages the body’s cardiovascular system. The body produces the hormone in stressful situations to help it react quickly, but consistently high levels of it can have damaging effects on the heart.

Researchers said they looked at urine sample data of 861 people aged 65 and over to measure their levels of cortisol. Of these people, 183 died within six years of when the research began, and their death certificates showed that heart disease killed 41 of them.

People who had higher levels of cortisol in their urine were found to be more likely to have died from heart disease; a linear relationship between the two was discovered, the researchers said.

Nicole Vogelzangs, who led the centre’s study, said: “Cortisol is an important component of the stress system of the human body but in higher concentrations can be harmful. This finding significantly adds evidence to the belief that cortisol can be damaging to the cardiovascular system.”


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