Is the Association Between Education and Sympathovagal Balance Mediated by Chronic Stressors?

Benjamin P. van Nieuwenhuizen*, Aydin Sekercan, Hanno L. Tan, Marieke T. Blom, Anja Lok, Bert Jan H. van den Born, Anton E. Kunst, Irene G.M. van Valkengoed

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: This study investigated whether raised chronic stress in low education groups contributes to education differences in cardiovascular disease by altering sympathovagal balance. Methods: This study included cross-sectional data of 10,202 participants from the multi-ethnic, population-based HELIUS-study. Sympathovagal balance was measured by baroreflex sensitivity (BRS), the standard deviation of the inter-beat interval (SDNN) and the root mean square of successive differences between normal heartbeats (RMSSD). The associations between chronic stressors (work, home, psychiatric, financial, negative life events, lack of job control and perceived discrimination) in a variety of domains and BRS, SDNN and RMSSD were assessed using linear regression, adjusted for age, ethnicity, waist-to-hip ratio and pack-years smoked. Mediation analysis was used to assess the contribution of chronic stress to the association between education and sympathovagal balance. Results: Modest but significant associations were observed between financial stress and BRS and SDNN in women, but not in RMSSD nor for any outcome measure in men. Women with the highest category of financial stress had 0.55% lower BRS (ms/mmHg; β = -0.055; CI = -0.098, -0.011) and 0.61% lower SDNN (ms; β = -0.061; CI = -0.099, -0.024) than those in the lowest category. Financial stress in women contributed 7.1% to the association between education and BRS, and 13.8% to the association between education and SDNN. Conclusion: No evidence was found for the hypothesized pathway in which sympathovagal balance is altered by chronic stress, except for a small contribution of financial stress in women.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)426-437
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number4
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

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