Physiological wear-and-tear and later subjective health in mid-life: Findings from the 1958 British birth cohort

74: 24-33
Publication date: 
August, 2016

Barboza Solís C, Fantin R, Kelly-Irving M, Delpierre C.

OBJECTIVE: Our body adapts continuously to environmental challenges and stressful conditions. Allostatic load (AL) is a concept that aims to capture the overall physiological wear-and-tear of the body triggered by the repeated activation of compensatory physiological mechanisms as a response to chronic stress. Growing evidence has shown a link between AL and later health decline, morbidity and mortality. However, due to the global physiological effect captured by the AL concept, it is particularly pertinent to examine its association with subsequent health by taking a broad definition of the latter. We examined the association between AL at 44 years and general health as measured by a latent multidimensional measure of subjective health at 50 years integrating sleep patterns, physical and mental health.

METHODS: AL was constructed using 14 biomarkers representing four physiological systems on 7573 members of the 1958 British birth cohort. Health status was captured using self-reported information about subjective health and summarized using a principal component analysis including: seven dimensions of the SF-36 questionnaire of health-related quality of life, the sleep subscale of the Medical Outcomes Study characterizing quality of sleep patterns, and a malaise inventory score detecting depressive symptoms.

RESULTS: Higher AL score was gradually associated with worse subjective health, after taking into account classic confounders.

CONCLUSIONS: Using a physiological index to grasp how the environment can "get under the skin" leading to poor health is of great interest, permitting a better understanding of life course origins of disease and social gradients in health.