Stress puts you at heart attack risk

Researchers have shown that anger, anxiety, and depression not only affect the function-ing of the heart, but also increase heart dis-ease risk.Stroke and heart attacks are the end prod-ucts 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 cardiovas-cular disease by evoking negative emotions that, in turn, raise the levels of pro-inflam-matory chemicals in the body.Researchers have now investigated the un-derlying neural circuitry of this process, and report their findings in the current is-sue of Biological Psychiatry.To conduct the study, Dr. Peter Gianaros, Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and first author on the study 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.The researchers also scanned their arteries for signs of atherosclerosis to assess heart disease risk and measured levels of inflam-mation in the bloodstream, a major physi-ological 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 elevat-ed blood levels of interleukin-6, one of the body’s pro-inflammatory cytokines, and in-creased thickness of the carotid artery wall, a marker of atherosclerosis.