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K Laederach-Hofmann, L Mussgay, and H Ruddel

Obese persons suffer from an increased mortality risk supposedly due to cardiovascular disorders related to either continuously lowered parasympathetic or altered sympathetic activation. Our cross-sectional correlation study establishes the relationship between obesity and autonomic regulation as well as salivary cortisol levels. Three patient cohorts were sampled, covering ranges of body mass index (BMI) of 27-32 (n=17), 33-39 (n=13) and above 40 kg/m(2)(n=12), and stratified for age, sex and menopausal status. Autonomic cardiovascular regulation was assessed by use of heart rate variability and continuous blood pressure recordings. Spectral analytical calculation (discrete Fourier transformation) yields indices of sympathetic and parasympathetic activation and baroreflex sensitivity. Morning salivary cortisol was concurrently collected. Contrary to expectation, BMI and waist/hip ratio (WHR) were inversely correlated with sympathetic activity. This was true for resting conditions (r=-0.48, P<0.001; r=-0.33, P<0.05 for BMI and WHR respectively) and for mental challenge (r=-0.42, P<0.01 for BMI). Resting baroreflex sensitivity was strongly related to the degree of obesity at rest (BMI: r=-0.35, P<0.05) and for mental challenge (r=-0.53, P<0.001). Salivary cortisol correlated significantly with waist circumference (r=-0.34, P=0.05). With increasing weight, no overstimulation was found but a depression in sympathetic and parasympathetic activity together with a significant reduction in baroreflex functioning and in salivary cortisol levels.