Let’s face it; we all dislike stress, but it’s something we all live with to some degree. The recipe for stress is certainly different for everyone – for some it could be from the joyous occasion of starting a new job or planning a wedding, while others might be going through a rough patch at work or may have just broken up with a significant other. However, the end result of stress can be quite similar regardless of how it manifests itself, presenting with about 15 to 20 varying symptoms that can include loss of appetite, sleep problems, irritability, trouble concentrating, and sadness, to name just a few.
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Let me preface this by saying that not all stress is bad for you. In fact, stress is what often allows us to grow into more productive and independent individuals. By challenging ourselves to overcome obstacles, stress helps instill pride of accomplishment in ourselves. In fact, most people who are confronted with stressful events won’t develop a disease. But, for the unlucky few, too much at one time, or a constant battering of stressful activities at home or on the job can be very, very unhealthy.
Today, I propose we examine three of the top diseases caused by stress and see what solutions researchers and pharmaceutical companies currently have on the market to help those affected.
The biggest concern for someone living a stressful life is that they’re often going to look for ways to make themselves feel better. This will involve a higher smoking rate among stressed individuals, more alcohol use, and a propensity to eat less nutritious foods (e.g., fast food), which can lead to high blood pressure and obesity. All of these factors put stressed-out individuals at a much higher risk of developing some form of cardiovascular disease.
What’s even more concerning about this particular disease is that socioeconomic stress (having a lower income) can place long-term limitations on someone’s food choice selections. With heart disease being the leading cause of death among men and women in the U.S., this is a serious concern.
Medical researchers and physicians understand this and have been trying to combat heart disease in a variety of ways. The primary way, though, has been through the use of LDL-cholesterol lowering drugs (the bad type of cholesterol). More specifically, doctors have turned primarily to statins like Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE)‘s now-generic medication Lipitor or AstraZeneca plc (ADR) (NYSE:AZN)‘s Crestor to provide long-term solution to chronically high cholesterol levels.
One particularly encouraging sign in LDL-reducing drugs has been the success of combination drugs that combine a statin with Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK)‘s cholesterol absorption inhibitor, Zetia. Liptruzet, for instance — which is a combination of Lipitor and Zetia — was approved in March of this year and helped lower LDL-cholesterol levels in patients by 53% to 61% in trials. Comparatively, Lipitor and Zetia alone only managed to reduce LDL-cholesterol levels by 37%-54% and 20% in trials. Presenting only minimal side effects over the long run, this new class of drug could hold the key to helping keep stressed individuals from literally having a heart attack!
It really should come as no surprise that high levels of stress are a primary culprit behind depression. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that was based on a paper from the Institute of Medicine, stress is a major factor that causes the onset of depression and is a contributing factor in recovering patients who relapse.
JAMA’s article points out two primary stress factors most commonly linked to depression — including social stresses such as those caused by a relationship breakup, and the type of depression caused by finding out one has a serious illness. Unfortunately, depression and disease can build upon themselves in a vicious cycle whereby a serious disease can cause depression, and the depression can worsen the disease.