March 2009 – Research led by UCLA to be published in Psychosomatic Medicine has found that stress in adolescence may have a negative impact on health in adulthood. Healthy teenagers reporting interpersonal conflicts had increased levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) an inflammatory marker associated with later development of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Andrew J. Fuligni, professor of psychiatry, said:
"Although most research on stress and inflammation has focused upon adulthood, these results show that such links can occur as early as the teenage years, even among a healthy sample of young men and women. That suggests that alterations in the biological substrates that initiate CVD begin before adulthood."
The researchers explain that common stressors, such as arguing with family or friends, are among the most powerful predictors of psychological distress. The current study investigated the potential physiological impact in 69 individuals with an average age of 17 years from Latin American and European backgrounds. Participants completed a check-list on 14 consecutive nights, reporting any negative interpersonal interactions with family, peers or school personnel (including disagreements, harassment or punishments). The study allowed for variables as socioeconomic status, major stressful life events and over-sensitivity to rejection. Researchers found that daily interpersonal stress was associated with elevated levels of inflammation, as measured by higher levels of CRP in blood samples assayed an average of eight months later.
Andrew Fuligni commented:
"Our findings are consistent with the emerging body of evidence that points to the link between stress and increased inflammation, which places individuals at risk for the later development of cardiovascular disease."
The study also found that this association was unrelated to the individual’s psychological appraisal of stressful experiences or level of sensitivity to social rejection. Researchers comment that this highlights the importance of focusing on actual daily stressful experiences in adolescence when assessing the role of psychological and social factors in development of risk for CVD.
Andrew Fuligni concluded:
"Although the frequency of some of these experiences may be low, they could have a significant impact upon long-term physical health during adulthood."