Stressed brain, stressed heart?

Scientists have known for a long time that stress can lead to heart attacks. Exactly how, has been a mystery until now. The effect of constant stress on an area of the brain leads to increased risk of heart attack, according to NRK. A recent study published in The Lancet confirms these findings. – Stress can be an equally important risk factor such as smoking and high blood pressure, says US researchers to BBC.

Higher activity in the amygdala

300 participated in the study led by a team from Harvard Medical School. Research shows that those with higher activity in the amygdala had a greater likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease faster than others. The amygdala is the area of the brain that processes emotions, particularly related to fear and joy. The researchers believe that the signals from this area stimulate the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells, which in turn makes the blood vessels become inflamed. This can lead to heart attacks, angina and stroke.

Patients studied for four years

Patients were studied for a period of four years. The first study consisted of scans of the brain, bone marrow, spleen and the main blood vessels of patients. The second study looked at the relationship between stress and inflammation in the body. Patients who experienced a lot of stress, also had higher inflammation in the blood vessel and into the bloodstream

A major breakthrough

Dan Atar is the vice president of European Cardiologists and professor of cardiology at the University. He describes the new study as groundbreaking.

– We have alwaysais that the body and mind are interrelated, but we have never before had an insight into these mechanisms. Now scientists have actually found it. The professor praises the way the study is conducted. He believes the state of the art technology combined with PET and CT scans done on such large populations, makes the research very solid.

– We already knew that the emotional stress causes more cases of heart disease and strokes. A study in Stockholm ten years ago confirmed this, but at that time the scientists had no explanation model, says Atar.

– What does this mean for cardiology in the future?

– If we consider that all the people who are struggling with psychological problems now are actually more exposed to cardiovascular risk, we must take the consequences seriously, he said.

Unique opportunities

Cardiologists have normally focused on controlling lifestyle habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake and unhealthy diet to reduce the risk of heart disease. Dr. Ahmed Tawakol, lead author and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, says that the new results provide an opportunity for chronic stress to be treated as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease.