A stressful, high-octane lifestyle is probably one of the worst things you can do for your heart, and cardiologists now have a better understanding of why.
In a large-scale longitudinal study, published Wednesday in the medical journal The Lancet, a team of cardiologists at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital found that stress increases heart attack danger by way of an overactive amygdala in the brain.
The amygdala is the brains dread centre. The small, almond-shaped region in the temporal lobe illuminations up in reaction to fear, nervousnes, stress or anything else that signals a potential threat( real or perceived ). A healthy amygdala can help to protect the brain against stress, while an amygdala thats hyper-excitable as a result of chronic stress or other factors can amplify the stress response.
The new study indicates, for the first time, how an overactive amygdala can cause heart attack and stroke. When stress triggers the amygdala, it activates bone marrow and inflammation of the arteries to create the conditions for a heart attack.
Our outcomes provide a unique insight into how stress may lead to cardiovascular disease, Dr. Ahmed Tawakol, a Harvard cardiologist and the studys lead author, said in a statement. This raises the possibility that reducing stress could make benefits that extend beyond an improved sense of psychological well-being.
For the study, 293 people over age 30, all without heart problems, were measured for brain activity, bone marrow activity and inflammation of the arteries.The researchers followed the participants for four years, from 2005 to 2008, during which day 22 participants experienced serious cardiac events.
Participants with more active amygdalas( as determined by the initial brain scans) were more likely to have a cardiac event over the course of the study period, and were more likely to develop heart problems sooner than those with less active amygdalas.
Eventually, chronic stress could be treated as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease.” Dr. Ahmed Tawakol
Inflammation is known to create blockages in the arteries, which can cut off blood flow to the heart, while bone marrow activity has been linked to blood clots another known risk factor for heart attacks.
In a small sub-study, 13 patients with a history of PTSD had their stress levels assessed by psychology, and underwent brain scans and tests of inflammation levels. Those with the highest stress levels showed the greatest amygdala activity, and also demonstrated more signs of inflammation.
Eventually, chronic stress could be treated as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is routinely screened for and effectively managed like other major cardiovascular disease risk factors, Tawakol said.
When advising patients on heart attack prevention, cardiologists typically focus on things like diet, smoking, alcohol intake and physical activity. The new findings suggest that stress management should be considered as a preventative health measure as well.
In the past decade, more and more people experience psychosocial stress on a daily basis. Heavy workloads, job insecurity, or living in poverty are circumstances that can result in chronically increased stress, Dr. Ilze Bot, a biopharmaceutical researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands, wrote in a commentpublished alongside the study. These clinical data establish a relationship between stress and cardiovascular disease, thus identifying chronic stress as a true risk factor for acute cardiovascular syndromes.
So, if you work in a high-pressure environment or find yourself often under stress, consider taking up meditation, yoga, tai chior other research-backed stress busters to keep your heart healthy. Theres a good chance that if your doctor isnt already recommending these practices, she will be after seeing the results of this study.