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The Dangers of Social Stress

More than 350 million people in the world suffer from depression and social stress. Many people are not aware of the physical effects depression has on the body, with heart disease being number one. Find out about the dangers of social stress.

Other than a significant mental health issue, depression leads to physiological disorders, such as heart disease, and heart disease conversely increases your risk for depressive disorders. Alternatively, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that depression will be the number one cause of disability by the year 2020. Social stress occurs when a person does not have the ability to cope with an external stimulus, or when he or she fears this lack of resources. This leads to behavioral, emotional and physiological changes that put the person at risk for mental health issues and physical illness.

Research Shows Link between Heart Disease and Depression

While the occurrence of depression and heart disease is recognized, the underlying causes that lead to the relationship between heart disease and depression are still unknown. Recently, a research associate at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia investigated the connection. Dr. Susan Wood performed a couple of studies on brain biomarkers associated with depression-heart disease comorbidity.

In one of her most recent studies, Wood used laboratory rats. She introduced a social stress that was similar to bullying in humans. After this introduction of stress, the social stress researcher discovered that the lab rats display signs of depressive behavior and dysfunctional cardiovascular changes. In the experiment, Dr. Wood used male lab rats, comparing the expression of 88 genes. These different genes are all involved with brain signaling. Both socially stressed and non-stressed rats were observed during the investigation. The study revealed that 35 of the 88 genes in stressed lab rats had an altered expression compared with the control group of non-stressed lab rats.

A previously conducted study led by Wood highlighted a role for the stress-related neurohormone corticotropin-releasing factor in rendering an individual susceptible to stress-induced heart disease and depression. This latest study, however, identifies both protein and gene expression in rodent brains. Wood explains that identifying factors in the brain that show susceptibility and resiliency to depression and heart disease comorbidity is a major breakthrough in the prediction, prevention, and treatment of these conditions.

Study Finds Specific Hormonal Response Patterns of Social Stres

In 2000, researcher Stefanski and associates investigated the specific hormonal response patterns of laboratory rats that competed against each other. Specifically, the study sought to identify changes in the numbers of immune blood cells. After a period of chronic confrontation, the wall between the two rat groups was removed, allowing them to interact. The male rats fought for dominance, resulting in establishment of relationships. The winner male rats had stable concentrations of corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG), whereas the loser male rats had decreased CBG and elevated norepinephrine and epinephrine titers. Additionally, the loser subgroup males had low levels of testosterone.

The social confrontation between the two rat groups led to marked granulocytosis, particularly for the loser males. Overall, the study found that differential hormonal response patterns could be significant in immunological differences between rats under social stress. The researchers concluded that inflammatory biomarkers document the harmful effects of chronic social stress.

Final Thoughts

Social stress causes brain inflammation and hormonal responses in laboratory rats. Humans are also affected by social stress and depression. Also, there is an observable link between depression and heart disease. Avoid the damaging effects of social stress, by avoiding this psychosocial phenomenon.


Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (2013, April 21). Social stress and the inflamed brain. Science Daily. Retrieved May 1, 2013, from­ /releases/2013/04/130421153839.htm

Stefanski, V. (2000). Social stress in laboratory rats: hormonal responses and immune cell distribution. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 25(4): 389 – 406. Retrieved from:

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