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Bad Marriages Take Health Toll on Women

Study Shows Marital Discord Hurts Women's Physical Health More Than Men's
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Why Bad Marriages May Affect Women's Health continued...

"It's not like men were not troubled in our study. But the results were clear that women in this situation were more likely to gain weight. Stress hormones facilitate depositing of intra-abdominal fat, so the stress might make them heavier, and also raise cholesterol," he says.

A large body of research shows that divorce is associated with coronary calcification in both men and women, but "in our data, it's clear that the association of stress and heart health is stronger in women," Smith says.

Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD, director of the cardiovascular outcomes program at Emory University in Atlanta, tells WebMD that it's just as likely that metabolic syndrome difficulties cause depression, rather than the other way around.

"We can clearly say that people with depression are more likely to have a metabolic syndrome, and vice versa," she says. "People with depression may be more likely to develop metabolic syndrome due to lack of physical activity, or inability to choose a healthy diet. But this is the first time I have seen this gender difference, that depression can affect women more than men."

Henry and Smith are to present the study March 5 at the American Psychosomatic Society's annual meeting in Chicago.

Are Bad Marriages More Stressful for Women?

Henry says the gender difference they found is important because heart disease is the biggest killer of women, as well as men, and "we are still learning a lot about how relationship factors and emotional distress are related to heart disease."

Smith, who is heading a larger University of Utah study on the role of marriage quality in heart disease, says it's too soon to conclude that stress may make women more vulnerable to physical problems than men, but that's what this latest research suggests.

However, he adds, "it's a little premature to say they would lower their risk of heart disease if they improved the tone and quality of their marriages, or dumped their husbands."

Other studies, he says, are trying to determine whether improving marriage might boost the health of marital partners.

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