Our bodies pay the price for job and money worries as stress damages almost all our organs

Stress damages almost every organ in the body, especially those closely connected to each other, like our immune, nervous and hormone systems. And because of this connection, stress makes us prone to poor health.

A team of UCL scientists looking at the effects of stress, measured biomarkers of health and found not only did one-off stressful events damage health, but long-term stress, such as financial worries or work issues, were also bad news for the healthy interaction of these systems.

Breakdown of communication between our immune, nervous, and endocrine systems is linked to a wide range of mental and physical illnesses, from heart disease to depression.

When stress occurs, the systems signal each other to spring into action and bring about physiological and behavioural changes to compensate.

Researchers checked blood levels of four biomarkers in almost 5,000 people aged 50 and over enrolled in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

Two of those markers are involved in our innate immune response to inflammation (C-reactive protein and fibrinogen), and two are hormones of our stress response (cortisol and IGF-1). From there, three groups of markers were identified as having a low risk to health, a moderate risk, and a high risk.

Then the researchers looked at how exposure to stress might affect the likelihood of a person falling in the high-risk group. Turns out any ­exposure to stress, from mild to profound in the last two years, led to a 61% probability of ending up in the ­high-risk group four years later.

Separately, the scientists noted that the effect was also cumulative, so the likelihood of belonging to the high-risk group increased by 19% with each stressful event. Financial worries was one of the most damaging stressors making it 59% more likely to fall into the high-risk group four years later.

This is possibly because this form of stress can permeate many aspects of our lives, leading to family conflict, social exclusion, even hunger or ­homelessness.

Lead author, PhD candidate Odessa Hamilton of UCL, said: “When the immune and neuroendocrine systems function well together… health is preserved.

“But chronic stress can disrupt this biological exchange and lead to disease.”

Prolonged stress can disturb the communication between our immune and neuroendocrine systems because our response to stress is similar to our response to sickness.

They both activate some of the same pathways, for instance, both of them trigger the production of immune system signals called ­pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Think of the “cytokine storms” we saw in people seriously ill with Covid, and with sepsis.