Anger, anxiety increase risk for heart disease

Anger, anxiety and depression not only affect

the functioning of the heart, but also increase

the risk for heart disease, scientists have warned.

Stroke and heart attacks are the end products

of progressive damage to blood vessels

supplying the heart and brain, a process

called atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis progresses when there are

high levels of chemicals in the body called

pro-inflammatory cytokines.

It is thought that persisting stress increases

the risk for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular

disease by evoking negative emotions that, in

turn, raise the levels of pro-inflammatory

chemicals in the body.

Researchers have now investigated the

underlying neural circuitry of this process.

"Drawing upon the observation that many of

the same brain areas involved in emotion are

also involved in sensing and regulating levels

of inflammation in the body, we hypothesised

that brain activity linked to negative emotions

– specifically efforts to regulate negative

emotions – would relate to physical signs of

risk for heart disease," said Dr Peter Gianaros,

Associate Professor at the University of

Pittsburgh and first author on the study.

Gianaros and his colleagues recruited 157

healthy adult volunteers who were asked to

regulate their emotional reactions to

unpleasant pictures while their brain activity

was measured with functional imaging.

Researchers also scanned their arteries for

signs of atherosclerosis to assess heart disease

risk and measured levels of inflammation in

the bloodstream, a major physiological risk

factor for atherosclerosis and premature

death by heart disease.

They found that individuals who show greater

brain activation when regulating their

negative emotions also exhibit elevated blood

levels of interleukin-6, one of the body's pro-

inflammatory cytokines, and increased

thickness of the carotid artery wall, a marker

of atherosclerosis.

The inflammation levels accounted for the

link between signs of atherosclerosis and

brain activity patterns seen during emotion


"These new findings agree with the popular

belief that emotions are connected to heart

health," said Gianaros.

"We think that the mechanistic basis for this

connection may lie in the functioning of brain

regions important for regulating both

emotion and inflammation.

"These findings may have implications for

brain-based prevention and intervention

efforts to improve heart health and protect

against heart disease," said Gianaros.

The study was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.


Kofi Oppong Kyekyeku

I am a Ghanaian Broadcast Journalist/Writer who has an interest in General News, Sports, Entertainment, Health, Lifestyle and many more.

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