You know that when you are angry, you would end up doing things that you cannot even imagine doing. Thus, you believe it would be very sane to control your anger, regulate it to the highest level even when you end up seething. But then, in the act of controlling your anger, you end up having a heart attack. Yes, a heart attack. You don’t think it’s probable, do you? Well, if probability is indeed a question in this, present-day studies say it is indeed very possible.
Persistent stress due to negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and depression is shown to be linked to cardiovascular diseases. Recent studies indicate that stroke and heart attacks are possible outcomes when blood vessels to the heart and brain are continuously damaged by high levels of the chemicals known as pro-inflammatory cytokines. The process is called atherosclerosis which affects the functions of the heart, furthermore, increases the risk for heart diseases.
Raised levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the human body are said to be caused by negative emotions. Current findings as explained in Biological Psychiatry by Dr. Peter Gianaros, Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the leading author of the study, suggest that brain areas where emotions are involved are also influential in the detection and regulation of inflammation levels in the body, specifying brain activity associated with effort of managing negative emotions which are correlated with physical symptoms of heart disease risks.
Healthy adult volunteers who showed greater brain activation in suppressing their emotional reactions when asked to control their emotive responses to unpleasant pictures were believed to have exhibited elevated blood levels of interleukin-6, one of the pro-inflammatory cytokines. Moreover, they respectively showed increased thickness of their carotid artery wall which is an indication of atherosclerosis. The study was conducted by Gianaros and his colleagues on 157 recruits whose arteries were scanned beforehand for indications of atherosclerosis to asses risks for heart disease. The volunteers were also tested for inflammation levels in the bloodstream which is a primary physiological risk factor for atherosclerosis and early death via heart disease.
The inflammation levels during emotion regulation ascertained the connection between signs of atherosclerosis and brain activity patterns observed, in which the results were more significant after variables such as age, gender, smoking and other similar common cardiovascular disease risk factors were considered. The new findings are consonant to “the popular belief that emotions are connected to heart health,” Gianaros stated. He also added that “the mechanistic basis for this connection may lie in the functioning of brain regions important for regulating both emotion and inflammation.” Moreover, as pronounced by Gianaros, the results grant implications for “brain-based prevention and intervention efforts” for the improvement of health and protection against heart diseases.
The findings presented by the researchers investigated the remarkable process where the links progress between negative emotional states, neural circuits, inflammation, and indicators of poor physical health, as remarked on by Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.
He furthers that identification of the key mechanisms associating brain and body means “we may be able to also break the cycle through which stress and depression impair physical health.”
Makes us think twice about negative emotions, doesn’t it?
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