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Socioeconomic status and health: Pathways of diseases

Stress and socioeconomic status

The body's response to stress

Problems arise when an organism is exposed to chronic threats, chronic sources of stress. In humans, especially in modern industrial nations, the most common source of stress is social: the judgment of others. The repeated or chronic activation of a response designed for acute threats leads to modifications of parameters such as blood pressure, heart rate, sugar level in the blood, and fat deposit around the abdominal viscera. And these modifications then lead to high blood pressure, arrhythmias, diabetes, and abdominal obesity. This overuse of the stress response is one way in which chronic stress can lead to pathological conditions which will shorten life.

Effect of stress on the nervous system

The effects of inflammation on arteries

SES is a source of chronic stress. The chronic activation of systems designed for acute threats modifies their basal activity. This modification especially the one involving cortisol and its receptors can lead to a pro-inflammatory state responsible for most of diseases of modern industrial nations. This hypothesis allows us to postulate a causal chain from SES to stress, from stress to inflammation, and from inflammation to diseases.


Quan, N., R. Avitsur, J. L. Stark, L. He, W. Lai, F. Dhabbar et J. F. Sheridan (2003), "Molecular mechanisms of glucocorticoid resistance in splenocytes of socially stressed mice", Journal of Neuroimmunology, vol. 137, p. 51-58.

Yudkin, J. S. (2003), "Adipose tissue, insulin action and vascular disease: inflammatory signals", International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders , vol. 27, Suppl 3, p. S25-S28.


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