This review has discussed some metabolic and endocrine changes that can be associated with a stress type of metabolism, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, smoking and the consumption of diets rich in fat and refined sugar, or poor in ascorbate. These are some of the risk factors associated with premature atherosclerosis, coronary thrombosis and stroke. It has been proposed that an increased control of metabolism by the 'stress' or counter-regulatory hormones, relative to insulin, is a common feature of these risk factors. Particular emphasis was placed upon the action of the glucocorticoids which can produce insulin insensitivity, leading to hyperglycaemia, hypertriglyceridaemia, hypercholesterolaemia and hyperinsulinaemia. Furthermore, glucocorticoids can decrease energy expenditure and, together with insulin, promote energy deposition. These observations provide a partial explanation for the metabolic changes that can accompany the risk factors and clarify why they interact in promoting atherosclerosis.