Scientists continue to find evidence of a relationship between excess stress and the early development of heart disease, underscoring the significance of the body-mind connection. Young men with stressful jobs showed signs of early heart disease compared with peers who performed less stressful work, according to a recent Finnish study published in Psychosomatic Medicine (2005; 67, 740–47). Positions where individuals faced high demands but had low control posed health-threatening job strain.

Investigators evaluated 1,020 men and women with an average age of 32 years. They completed questionnaires concerning their jobs and received ultrasound scans of their carotid arteries. A review of the scans revealed that the young men with the most job strain had the greatest thickening of the arteries, indicating that the early stages of heart disease were present. Even when factors such as smoking and lack of exercise were taken into account, the men with the highest job strain had the most arterial thickening. Interestingly, this was not true of the women.

Lead study author Liisa Keltikangas-Jarvinen, PhD, told Reuters Health that it is far from clear why job strain may affect the health of artery walls. Direct stress on the nervous system and indirect consequences of a stressful life that includes poor eating and exercise habits are possible reasons.