Objective: Despite the increased risk for cardiovascular morbidity associated with vital exhaustion (VE), the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms remain unclear. Allostatic load may constitute the missing link between VE and cardiovascular diseases. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether men with different degrees of VE would differ in terms of allostatic load, chronic stress, and social support.
Methods: The Men Stress 40 + study sample consisted of N = 121 apparently healthy men aged 40 to 75 years. The following allostatic load markers were aggregated to create a cumulative index of biological stress: salivary cortisol, salivary dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S), waist-to-hip-ratio, systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Long-term cortisol and DHEA were additionally measured in hair. Chronic stress and social support were assessed via validated questionnaires. Groups of mildly, substantially, and severely exhausted men were compared using one-way ANOVAs with appropriate post-hoc tests.
Results: Men who reported mild or severe levels of vital exhaustion had the highest scores on the cumulative index of biological stress. Hair cortisol was unrelated to vital exhaustion; hair DHEA was highest in men with substantial levels of exhaustion. Men with mild exhaustion reported the lowest levels of chronic stress, while men with severe exhaustion reported the lowest levels of social support.
Conclusions: Signs of allostatic load are detectable in vitally exhausted men at a stage where no major cardiovascular consequences have yet ensued.