Stress-heart attacks and strokes are overlapping in a way that is becoming clearer each day among researchers.
A new study using brain scans shows how stress contributes to heart attacks.
An interesting finding also showed the emotion of fear puts you at a higher risk of heart attacks or strokes.
The findings point to the amygdala — a pair of little structures about the size of a nut, which is often called the fear center in the brain.
However, the amygdala is also linked to various forms of stress, not just fear.
The researchers found that people whose amygdala seemed more active during brain scans were more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or other serious heart events over the next three to four years.
Not only that, but those with more active amygdala had more inflammation in their arteries — something that’s clearly linked to heart disease — and bone marrow activity that may be linked to blood clots.
As suspected by clinicians long before this study was conducted, the relationship between stress-heart attacks and strokes is real.
In a statement issued by Dr. Ahmed Tawakol of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who led the study team, he said:
“Our results provide a unique insight into how stress may lead to cardiovascular disease, Eventually, chronic stress could be treated as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”
For their research, Tawakol and colleagues watched 293 patients who were getting PET and CT scans unrelated to heart disease — mostly for cancer screening. All had their brains, arteries, bone marrow and spleen scanned.
Over the next three to four years, the team watched to see who had heart attacks, strokes or other heart diseases. A total of 22 patients did.
As the team reported in the Lancet Medical Journal, looking at their scans, those whose amygdala was more active were more likely to have a heart event.
Data suggest that at least two biologically significant pathways link amygdalin activity to cardiovascular disease events in human beings.
➡ Activation of the bone marrow (and release of inflammatory cells), which in turn lead to atherosclerotic inflammation and blood clots.
The team also found a potential pathway for how that happens — inflammation and more activity in the bone marrow.
➡ Other studies, including on mice, suggest that extra bone marrow activity includes the production of an inflammatory chemical called interleukin 6, as well as production of platelets — the blood cells that stick together to form clots.
However, Cancer can cause stress and some chemotherapy can also cause damage that leads to heart disease, so more study is needed on a larger group of people who don’t have any signs of any disease, the researchers said.
But there were a few people in the group who had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and were not being screened for cancer — and the findings held for them, also. Those with busier amygdala also were more likely to have a bad heart event within four years.
“This is one of the very few studies that you can see metabolic activity in response to stress,” said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist at New York University Langone Medical Center.
“This is very interesting because it shows a biological connection between the stress and arterial inflammation and cardiac events,” Goldberg told NBC News.
Whether the findings hold or not, stress reduction is good for everyone…stress is just not good for your health.
Now, this study shows the stress itself could be damaging, and it demonstrates how.
Dr. Goldberg stated, “It would be interesting to show if you did an intervention, such as stress management if you would be able to reduce this effect.”
You bet…(Yoga and meditation have been doing it for centuries).
While we’ve known for a long time that stress plays a role in heart disease, it’s been difficult to quantify ‘stress,’ for research purposes, because it’s a relatively subjective feeling.
This study highlights the interplay between the brain and the heart — a relationship we know exists, but the details of which, remain mysterious.
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