Traumas: they increase the risk for obesity and autoimmunity in women

Obesity remains one of the largest public health burden in the United States, affecting more than a third of adults and putting them at risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer. Previous research has shown that psychological stress can affect our eating habits. The researchers found that women who experienced traumatic events during their life or negative life events in the last 5 years were more likely to become obese than women who had not experienced such events. The senior author of the study, Dr Michelle A. Albert, from the Center for the Study of Adversity and Cardiovascular Diseases at the University of California, in San Francisco, led the study of her team. Stress is known to affect behavior, including the fact that people are under or in excess of hunger, as well as neurohormonal activity, partly increasing the production of cortisol, which is related to weight gain. However, researchers note that little is known about how negative life experiences or traumatic events can influence the likelihood of obesity. This is what the dr. Albert and colleagues tried to find out with their new study.

The researchers analyzed data from 21,904 middle-aged and elderly women who were part of the Women’s Health Study (WHS) 2012-2013. The team examined the number of self-reported traumatic events (such as the death of a child, a physical attack or a life-threatening illness) among women, as well as the number of negative life events (such as unemployment for at least 3 months or have been burgled) in the last 5 years. They then examined whether these events were associated with the body mass index (BMI) or not. The researchers defined obesity with a BMI of 30 kilograms per square meter or higher and 23 percent of the study participants met this definition. The study revealed that women who experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives had 11% more likely to become obese compared to women without traumatic events. The risk of becoming obese was 36% higher for women who had had at least four negative life events in the last 5 years, compared to women who had not suffered trauma. The longer the negative life events last, the greater the risk of obesity.

Furthermore, it seems that traumatic events may be the triggering cause of another condition that predominantly affects women: lupus erythematosus (LES). A new study expands on the risks to physical health associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, after discovering that the condition may increase the risk of lupus by almost three times. Researchers have linked psychosocial trauma to a higher risk of lupus. Furthermore, the researchers found that exposure to any traumatic event may increase the risk of lupus. Head of the study Dr. Andrea Roberts, of Harvard T.H. The Chan Public Health School in Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology. The new study by Dr. Roberts and colleagues provides further evidence linking psychosocial trauma to a higher likelihood of SLE. Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues, causing inflammation. In SLE, various parts of the body can be affected, including skin, joints, kidneys, heart and brain.

According to Lupus Research Alliance, in the United States there are about 1.5 million people living with lupus, with over 90% of cases in women between the ages of 15 and 44. The new study included data from 54,763 US women, all assessed for PTSD and trauma exposure using the short screening scale for the DSD-IV PTSD and the Brief Trauma Questionnaire. In over 24 years of follow-up, the team evaluated the women’s medical records and used the criteria of the American College of Rheumatology to determine the incidence of SLE. There were a total of 73 SLE cases. The researchers found that women who met the criteria for post-traumatic stress were about 3 times more likely to develop SLE than women who had not suffered any trauma. Furthermore, the results revealed that women who had been exposed to any type of trauma – regardless of whether they had PTSD symptoms – had a 2.87-fold risk of SLE. According to the researchers, their findings provide further evidence that psychosocial trauma may increase the likelihood of autoimmune disease.

These data reinforce the hypotheses issued about 30 years ago on the correlation of mental stress and the appearance of food and autoimmune disorders.

  • edited by Dr. GIanfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.

Scientific references

Mason SM et al. Ann Behav Med. 2017 Dec; 51(6):822-832.

Dichtel LE et al. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 Nov 1.

Roberts AL, Arthritis Rheumatol. 2017 Nov; 69(11):2162-69. 

Tronieri JS et al. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2017 Jun; 19(6):29. 

Assad S, Khan HH et al. Cureus. 2017 Jun 5; 9(6):e1315.

Suliman S et al. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2016; 24(4):271-93. 

Informazioni su Dott. Gianfrancesco Cormaci 2484 Articoli
- Laurea in Medicina e Chirurgia nel 1998 (MD Degree in 1998) - Specialista in Biochimica Clinica nel 2002 (Clinical Biochemistry specialty in 2002) - Dottorato in Neurobiologia nel 2006 (Neurobiology PhD in 2006) - Ha soggiornato negli Stati Uniti, Baltimora (MD) come ricercatore alle dipendenze del National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA/NIH) e poi alla Johns Hopkins University, dal 2004 al 2008. - Dal 2009 si occupa di Medicina personalizzata. - Detentore di un brevetto sulla preparazione di prodotti gluten-free a partire da regolare farina di frumento immunologicamente neutralizzata (owner of a patent concerning the production of bakery gluten-free products, starting from regular wheat flour). - Responsabile del reparto Ricerca e Sviluppo per la società CoFood s.r.l. (leader of the R&D for the partnership CoFood s.r.l.) - Autore di un libro riguardante la salute e l'alimentazione, con approfondimenti su come questa condizioni tutti i sistemi corporei. - Autore di articoli su informazione medica, salute e benessere sui siti web e