Bio-Behavioral Factors in Health and Disease

An interdisciplinary subject, "bio-behavioral variables in health," focuses on integrating lifestyle choices, psychological functioning, and biomedical science to improve illness prevention, treatment, and mechanistic comprehension. Across a wide range of health conditions, including cardiometabolic diseases, cancer, chronic pain, insomnia, pulmonary disease, sleep apnea, solid organ transplantation, cardiothoracic surgery, and among older adults with cognitive impairment, changes in lifestyle behaviors and health habits can improve quality of life, mitigate disease progression, and reduce symptom burden. The interplay of several elements has an impact on both the health of individuals and communities. People's situations and environments determine whether they are healthy or not. Most of the time, factors like where we live, the quality of our environment, our genetics, our level of education and income, and our relationships with friends and family all significantly affect our health

In contrast, factors like access to and use of health care services frequently have less effect. on the physical surroundings, the person's unique traits and behaviors, and the social and economic context. The circumstances of their existence determine people's health; thus, blaming or praising them for excellent health is improper. Many factors influencing health are outside an individual's direct control.

Bio-behavioral Factors That Affect Health

Following are the major bio-behavioral factors that affect health

Stress Response

Various physiological processes that can increase resistance to disease or injury and promote disease can be caused or modulated by stress. For instance, stress-related chemicals like cortisol and epinephrine have detrimental and beneficial effects. The biological channels by which a person's experiences, living and working situations, interpersonal relationships, way of life, diet, personality traits, and overall socioeconomic level can impact the body are the primary and secondary impacts of the stress response. Due to how nutrition, exercise, and other personal choices affect the pathophysiological cost of stress, individual behavior is crucial. An essential part of the body's regulatory systems is the stress response. Homeostasis is the maintenance of steady and suitable internal conditions and functioning in the face of shifting environmental demands.

The heart, lungs, muscles, metabolism, immunological system, and central nervous system undergo several coordinated and simultaneous changes because of stress. Modified emotional reactions, increased alertness, heightened risk perception, improved memory storage and retrieval, and changes in motivation can all occur alongside physiological changes.

Allostatic Load

Allostasis and allostatic load are used in an important new endeavor to explain the links between environmental and behavioral challenges and stresses, the physiological responses to these events, and disease. Allostasis is the continual balancing and adjusting of numerous components in adapting to challenges, which maintains overall stability (homeostasis). Allostatic load and allostasis affect all bodily systems and draw attention to the beneficial and detrimental effects of the two main mediators of the stress response, cortisol and catecholamines.

Effects of Stress

A behavioral reaction to difficulty or stress can be beneficial or harmful. Such behavioral patterns as antagonism or violence might increase the risk of harm or sickness, whereas cooperation and conciliation can decrease it. The risk is increased by cigarette smoking, heavy alcohol intake, a high-fat diet, being around physical dangers, and not getting enough exercise. A variety of behavioral responses can be explained by the relationship between allostasis and allostatic load: Smoking, heavy drinking, and eating high-fat foods are just a few examples of habits that have perceived adaptive effects in the short term but have negative consequences if they continue. Some of the negative impacts of physiologic reactions can be mitigated by behavior.

The Biobehavioral Family Model

The lack of integrative models that give a shared vocabulary and conceptualization across disciplines is one barrier to integrated biopsychosocial care. One model that can help formulate and integrate biopsychosocial conceptualization and sickness treatment is the Biobehavioral Family Model (BBFM). It is one of the biopsychosocial models that might exist. The BBFM, on the other hand, prioritizes family variables on the evolutionary notion that the family social system acts as a buffer and method of adaptation to social stress and adversity. Thus, to the degree that family interactions are functioning, the family will protect individual family members from stress; yet, if family ties are dysfunctional, the impacts of stress and adversity on an individual family member's health may be exacerbated. The BBFM was created to discover particular psychobiological pathways through which family relationships influence emotional/psychological and physical sickness. The BBFM adds value by facilitating knowledge growth through research and applying it to training processes, family-based treatments, and, eventually, family policy

When combined, the model has three components that represent a step forward in family theory. First, because the BBFM is founded on normative rather than dysfunctional ideas of family relations, it may discover good parts of the family relationship process. The model is also three-dimensional, implying that its family relationship characteristics are conceived as a quantitative continuum. Positive family relationship processes would suffer the effects of stress (both internal and external) on the person. In contrast, bad family relational processes would transfer internal family stress and increase external stress on the individual family member. In the same model, these two components allow for studying the protective and harmful consequences of family relationship processes. Finally, because the BBFM notions are not culturally bound, they may be used across ethnic groups and socioeconomic classes. A more detailed presentation of the BBFM may be found elsewhere.

Initially, the BBFM approach was centered on the kid. The paradigm, however, can and has been extended to examine patients across the lifetime and from varied socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Its significance as a model of family impacts on resilience is being investigated. Family emotional climate, interpersonal closeness; generational hierarchy; parent-parent relationship quality; responsivity; attachment security; and biobehavioral reactivity are all conceptual characteristics of the family relational process incorporated into the BBFM.

Immune System and Health

The immune system's main job is to defend the host from infectious and cancerous threats. Chronic stress has the reverse impact, impairing immune function. Acute stress largely improves immunological function by boosting immune cell translocation to sites of immune challenge. A relatively recent branch of research called psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) examines how your immune and central nervous systems (CNS) interact. The central nervous system (CNS) comprises the nerves in your brain and spinal cord, whereas the immune system is composed of cells and organs that protect your body against infection. Both systems produce small chemicals and proteins that can serve as messengers between the two systems. These messengers in your CNS include hormones and neurotransmitters.

Two categories of lymphocytes exist. To eliminate invasive viruses and bacteria, B cells create antibodies that are discharged into the fluid surrounding the body's cells. If an intruder enters a cell, T cells latch on to it, reproduce, and kill it. The immune system's capacity to defend against antigens is diminished when we are under stress, and we are, therefore, more susceptible to infections. The stress hormone corticosteroids can suppress the immune system's effectiveness (e.g., by lowering the number of lymphocytes). Indirect effects of stress, such as those caused by unhealthy behavioral coping mechanisms like drinking and smoking, can also negatively affect the immune system

Due to the release of free fatty acids caused by the effects of adrenaline and noradrenaline, stress also increases blood cholesterol levels. As a result, cholesterol clumps together, causing blood clots, blockage of the arteries, and clots in the artery walls. A faster buildup of cholesterol on arterial walls is associated with an increased heart rate. Small lesions on the arterial walls brought on by high blood pressure often become entrapped with cholesterol.


Biobehavioral factors like stress and allostatic load affect our health. The susceptibility to diseases and health issues increases when one is stressed. Chronic and persistent stress causes the release of cortisol and other hormones that keep our bodies in fight-or-flight mode, weakening the immune system and making us more susceptible to infections and diseases. Many research projects have been conducted to understand better the factors that increase vulnerability to disease transmission. Stress has been linked to diseases like CHD, ulcers, cancer, and much more, combined with other biological and environmental factors.

Updated on: 03-Jan-2023


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