Where psychology meets physiology: chronic stress and premature mortality--the Central-Eastern European health paradox

Brain Res Bull. 2004 Feb 1;62(5):351-67. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2003.12.001.


A substantial and still growing body of research tries to link different psychological models and chronic diseases, with special emphasis on cardiovascular disease. These efforts have established several conceptual bridges that connect psychological alterations and psychosocial factors to the risks, onset and prognosis of cardiovascular disease. However, several different models have been suggested. Depression and learned helplessness are two central psychological models that have been shown to have major explanatory power in the development of chronic diseases. In this respect the so called Central-Eastern European health paradox, that is the morbidity and mortality crisis in these transforming societies can be regarded as a special experimental model. In this review chronic stress is proposed as an integrating theory that can be applied to different psychological models. Chronic stress and allostatic load has been shown to lead to typical pathogenetic results in animal experiments. Chronic stress theory is applicable to the explanation of the suddenly changing patterns of premature mortality rates in transforming societies. Literature and the different models in the field of psychology, behavioural sciences, and epidemiology are reviewed in terms of the chronic stress theory. The applicability of these results are investigated for further research, clinical and policy implications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Europe
  • Helplessness, Learned
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mortality*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*