Losing a spouse is a distressing life event that can affect mental and physical health. Lopez et al. investigated inflammation-related factors relevant to adverse health outcomes in bereaved spouses. Findings suggest that use of emotion-suppression strategies is associated with altered immune functioning (an interleukin composite index, TNFα and IFN γ). Interventions targeting such strategies may provide an avenue for improving immune system-related health outcomes.
Ayling et al. systematically reviewed the evidence regarding brief mood-improving interventions on immune system measures and found that these interventions can positively influence some immune parameters. The review also indicates that more high-quality research is needed that focuses on clinically relevant immune system measures and underlying biobehavioral mechanisms.
Alexithymia, characterized by difficulties in identifying and describing one’s own feelings, is considered a risk factor for psychosomatic disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In an experimentally controlled study, Kano et al. showed that higher levels of alexithymia are associated with stronger physiological responses to aversive stimuli and corticotropin-releasing hormone. In addition, brain responses in the right insula and other brain regions were positively associated with TAS-20 scores, particularly in patients with IBS.
Recent studies have shown that higher levels of muscular strength are associated with better cognitive functioning. The neural mechanisms underpinning this are unclear. Firth et al. examined the cross-sectional relationships between maximal handgrip, a measure of muscular strength, and brain structure in individuals with major depressive disorder and healthy controls. Stronger handgrip was associated with significantly greater hippocampal volume and reduced white matter lesions. Future research is needed to investigate the direction of this association.
Animal studies have demonstrated that it is possible to trigger endocrine responses through classical conditioning, but human research on this topic is limited. Skvortsova et al. demonstrated that after repeated administration of intranasal oxytocin with a distinctive smell, the smell alone combined with a placebo elicited a conditioned release of endogenous oxytocin. Triggering endocrine changes by conditioning could have widespread clinical implications, such as in enhancing effects of pharmacological treatments or reducing the dosages of medications.
Hospital readmission following evaluation for acute coronary syndrome (ACS) is associated with substantial financial and medical burden. Short sleep duration is related to cardiovascular risk and may affect post-ACS outcomes. Romero et al. observed that sleep duration of less than 6 hours in the month following hospital evaluation for ACS is common (34%) and associated with over two times the risk of emergency department or hospital readmission in the next 6 months. These results suggest that sleep duration after ACS evaluation is an important health behavior to monitor.
Many studies have explored the “Big Five” domains of personality as risk factors for mortality. Chapman et al. examined mortality risk as related to sub-dimensions of personality, along with specific traits within the Interpersonal Circumplex (IPC) model of personality. The Vulnerability facet of Neuroticism was consistently associated with higher risk and the Activity facet of Extraversion with lower risk of mortality. IPC scales of submissiveness and hostile submissiveness were linked with elevated mortality risk, and most facets in the Conscientiousness domain were associated with lower risk. Results suggest that precise and detailed personality assessment, rather than broad composite constructs, are important in the prediction of early mortality.
Narita et al. examined the mediating effects of lifestyle behaviors in the association between personality factors and CVD mortality in 29,766 Japanese adults during 20 years follow-up. Results indicate that lifestyle-related behaviors, especially smoking, partially mediate the association between psychoticism (a combination of toughmindedness, aggressiveness, coldness, lack of deliberateness and egocentricity) and CVD mortality, whereas they do not mediate the association between neuroticism and CVD mortality.
Childhood adversity might contribute to adverse cardiometabolic processes and obesity through adoption of unhealthy behaviors or altered biological stress responses. In a longitudinal study, Robson et al. found that childhood adversity was associated with poor cardiometabolic health at ages 60-64 years, in both normal weight and overweight or obese adults. The findings were independent of covariates, including socioeconomic factors.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is associated with unstable interpersonal relationships, affective instability, and physical health problems. Studies have not examined the temporal relationships of these constructs in BPD. Hepp et al. found that the inability to regulate affective responses to negative interpersonal events may contribute to health problems in daily life, especially in participants with BPD. Targeting reactions to interpersonal stressors may, therefore, be an important mechanism for reducing health problems in this population.
Racial discrimination has been associated with increased allostatic load (AL), which predicts functional aging and decline. Currie et al. found racial discrimination, income, and age were all associated with increased AL among indigenous adults who were not engaged in their culture. Findings highlight the indigenous cultural continuity may play a role in biological resilience in the face of social stress.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is linked to poor health, including cardiovascular disease (CVD). It is not clear whether frontline treatments of PTSD reduce cardiovascular risk. Bourassa et al. randomized active duty soldiers to an exposure therapy—either prolonged exposure (PE) or virtual reality exposure (VRE)—or a waitlist control condition. The results demonstrate that PE and VRE resulted in decreased resting heart rate and heart rate reactivity from baseline to posttreatment relative to the waitlist group, which may be relevant to reduced cardiovascular risk.
PTSD and lower respiratory symptoms (LRS) often coexist among survivors of the September 11, 2001 (9/11) World Trade Center attacks. Wyka et al. explored the interplay between physical and psychological 9/11 exposures, PTSD, and LRS, during 10-year follow-up in rescue/recovery workers and exposed community members. Probable PTSD and LRS each mediate the longitudinal relationships between 9/11 exposures and the other. The findings suggest a diagnosis of either condition should trigger assessment for the other.