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Workplace stress poses risk to health

Neuherberg, April 23, 2013. Stressful situations at work can have a negative impact on the cardiovascular system and the metabolism. Stress, which is transmitted by direct and indirect signaling pathways, leads to an inflammatory response in the body, which can trigger cardiovascular diseases, amongst others. These results, which were achieved by scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum München following their evaluation of data from a population-based cohort study, were published in the specialist journals Brain, Behavior, and Immunity and Psychosomatic Medicine.

Workplace stress poses risk to health

Prof. Karl-Heinz Ladwig; Dr. Rebecca Emeny

The study is based on a long-term observation of more than 950 people as part of the population-based cohort study MONICA/KORA. The work was conducted by Dr. Rebecca Emeny as part of the Mental Health working group headed by Prof. Karl-Heinz Ladwig, Institute of Epidemiology II (EPI II) at the Helmholtz Zentrum München (HMGU). Data was analyzed from questionnaires on psychological stress at work and concentrations of inflammatory biomarkers in the blood. The results showed that healthy workers who were exposed to stress at work displayed significantly elevated inflammatory parameters and faced twice the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

More than half of the participants in the study stated that they experienced psychological strain and stress at work. Stress is regarded as a cardiovascular risk factor. Its consequences are communicated directly via activated messenger substances as well as indirectly via unhealthy stress-related behavior. In particular, the scientists found a clear association between stress and elevated concentrations of CRP (C-reactive protein), which is an inflammatory marker, and were thus able to demonstrate a stress-related inflammatory reaction in the body. Moreover, job stress led to harmful psychological effects such as depression and sleep disturbances as well as to unhealthy behavior, for example, physical inactivity. Doing sports regularly, for at least one hour per week, significantly reduced inflammatory activity. However, the differences in terms of health risks between people who suffered from work stress and those who did not still remained.

With their analysis, the scientists at HMGU have made a substantial contribution towards a deeper understanding of stress-related responses in the body. “The insights gained from this study form important starting points for finding preventive measures that will protect against stress-related diseases such as coronary heart disease,” says Dr. Emeny, first author of the study.

Environmental factors and lifestyle play a major role in the development of common diseases in Germany such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes mellitus. The aim of the Helmholtz Zentrum München is to develop new approaches for the diagnosis, therapy and prevention of the most common diseases.

Further information


Original publication:

Emeny, R.T. et al. (2013), Contributions of Job Strain and 9 Emerging Biomarkers of Coronary Events in Healthy Workers: the MONICA/KORA Augsburg Case-Cohort, Psychosomatic Medicine, 75(3):317-25

Emeny, R.T. et al. (2012), Job strain associated CRP is mediated by leisure time physical activity: Results from the MONICA/KORA study, Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity, 26, 1077-1084

Link to specialist publication

Helmholtz Zentrum München, as German Research Center for Environmental Health, pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of major widespread diseases such as diabetes mellitus and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The head office of the Center is located in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München has a staff of about 2,100 people and is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 34,000 staff members. www.helmholtz-muenchen.de

The Institute of Epidemiology II (EPI II) focuses on the assessment of environmental and lifestyle risk factors which jointly affect major chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and mental health. Research builds on the unique resources of the KORA cohort, the KORA myocardial infarction registry, and the KORA aerosol measurement station. Aging-related phenotypes have been added to the KORA research portfolio within the frame of the Research Consortium KORA-Age. The institute’s contributions are specifically relevant for the population as modifiable personal risk factors are being researched that could be influenced by the individual or by improving legislation for the protection of public health.

For more than 20 years, the research platform Cooperative Health Research in the Augsburg Region (KORA) has been collecting and analyzing data on the health of thousands of people living in the Augsburg region. The objective is to elucidate the effects of environmental factors, behavior and genes. KORA focuses on the development and course of chronic diseases, in particular myocardial infarction and diabetes mellitus. Risk factors are analyzed with regard to individual health behavior (e.g. smoking, diet, exercise), environmental factors (e.g. air pollution, noise) and genetics. From the perspective of health care research, questions regarding the utilization of health care resources and the cost of health care are also studied. www.helmholtz-muenchen.de/kora
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Scientific contact
Prof. Karl-Heinz Ladwig, Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt (GmbH), Institute of Epidemiology II, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg, Germany - Phone: +49-89-3187-3623 - E-Mail: