Published:  2010-05-01

Increased Sympathetic and Decreased Parasympathetic Activity Rather Than Changes in Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Activity Is Associated with Metabolic Abnormalities

Authors:  Carmilla M. M. Licht, Sophie A. Vreeburg, Arianne K. B. van Reedt Dortland, Erik J. Giltay, Witte J. G. Hoogendijk, Roel H. DeRijk, Nicole Vogelzangs, Frans G. Zitman, Eco J. C. de Geus, Brenda W. J. H. Penninx


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Context: Stress is suggested to lead to metabolic dysregulations as clustered in the metabolic syndrome, but the underlying biological mechanisms are not yet well understood.Objective: We examined the relationship between two main str systems, the autonomic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, with the metabolic syndrome and its components.Design: The design was baseline data (yr 2004–2007) of a prospective cohort: the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA).Setting: The study comprised general community, primary care, and specialized mental health care.Participants: This study included 1883 participants aged 18–65 yr.Main Outcome Measures: Autonomic nervous system measures included heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA; high RSA reflecting high parasympathetic activity), and preejection period (PEP; high PEP reflecting low sympathetic activity). HPA axis measures included the cortisol awakening response, evening cortisol, and a 0.5 mg dexamethasone suppression test as measured in saliva. Metabolic syndrome was based on the updated Adult Treatment Panel III criteria and included high waist circumference, serum triglycerides, blood pressure, serum glucose, and low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.Results: RSA and PEP were both independently negatively associated with the presence of the metabolic syndrome, the number of metabolic dysregulations as well as all individual components except high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (all P < 0.02). Heart rate was positively related to the metabolic syndrome, the number of metabolic dysregulations, and all individual components (all P < 0.001). HPA axis measures were not related to metabolic syndrome or its components.Conclusion: Our findings suggest that increased sympathetic and decreased parasympathetic nervous system activity is associated with metabolic syndrome, whereas HPA axis activity is not.