Stress May Kill Us All, But Study Says Women Will Fare Better

A new study conducted at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem indicates that women are better dealing with stress than men, and that this difference may be genetic.

Previous research has shown that the way the brain and the body adapt to stress hugely influences both physical and mental health. The World Health Organization predicts that in 20 years, stress will be the second leading cause of mortality worldwide. This is bad news for everyone, but it seems that it will be much worse for men, who may be genetically crippled in how they cope under stress. Scientists believe that stress levels are predetermined by our genes by as much as 62%, yet until now there had been little research on genetics as a determinant of stress.

Researchers conducted a social-stress test on students from the Hebrew University, during which participants underwent a fake job interview and a mental arithmetic test. After spending five minutes trying to convince a panel of judges to hire them, students were then asked to count backwards out loud from 1,687 by multiples of 13. If they made a mistake, they were asked to start the task again. Researchers took samples of their saliva during the process to measure levels of the "stress hormone" cortisol. They also took mouthwash samples, which were genotyped for the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene. Animal studies have shown that BDNF expression is reduced in chronic stress and restored by antidepressant treatment.

The BDNF gene is characterized by a variant that codes for either the valine (Val) or methionine (Met) amino acids. Possible combinations of the amino acids are Val/Val or Val/Met. Researchers found that among the participants, the Val/Met carriers had had nearly equal cortisol levels, regardless of gender. However, men with Val/Val variant were found to have much high cortisol levels than men with Val/Met, while women with Val/Val had lower levels. They concluded that Val/Val works opposite ways in men and women, raising stress levels for men and lowering it for women.

Fortunately for us ladies, the Val/Val variant is the much more common of the two. Women with Val/Val are thus put at an advantage, while men with the same genetic coding are at a higher risk for stress-related illnesses. The Hebrew University researchers believe that their study illustrates the significance of investigating both genetic causes and situational factors for psycho-neurological illnesses like depression.

All this aside, surely you have plenty of anecdotal evidence of men losing their minds when stressed while women remained calm?

How Men And Women Cope Differently With Stress Traced To Genetic Differences [ScienceDaily]
Women are better stress managers: study [Times of India]

[Image via Stacey Harrison's Flickr]