If you knew that frequent anger might raise your risk of heart disease significantly, would you continue to blow off steam by yelling and smashing things during an argument or getting furious if the office email crashes during a rushed, stressful day?
By Dr. Mercola
Intense emotion is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke, particularly in the first hours after the emotion occurs. While prevention efforts typically focus on more concrete steps like physical exercise, not smoking, and a healthier diet, it’s just as important, if not more so, to tend to your emotional health as well.
A new systematic review involving data on 5,000 heart attacks, 800 strokes, and 300 cases of arrhythmia revealed that not only does anger increase your risk of heart attack, arrhythmia, and stroke, but the risk also rises with frequent anger episodes.
Intense Anger Boosts Heart Attack Risk Five-Fold, Stroke Risk Three-Fold
According to the study, when a person is angry their risk of heart attack increases by nearly five-fold and their risk of stroke goes up more than three-fold in the two hours following an angry outburst (compared to when they are not angry). The risk was even greater among those who had a history of heart problems.
Those most at risk following anger episodes were those with underlying risk factors and those who got angry frequently. As reported by Medical News Today:
“The researchers calculated that the annual rate of heart attack per 10,000 people who were angry only once a month would go up by one among those with low cardiovascular risk, and by four in those with high cardiovascular risk.
However, for those who had five outbursts of anger per day, this figure shoots up to 158 extra heart attacks per 10,000 heart attacks each year for those with low cardiovascular risk, and 657 extra heart attacks for those with high cardiovascular risk.”
How Does Anger Harm Your Heart?
Negative emotions like anger trigger a cascade of physical reactions that extend throughout your body, including increases in heart rate, arterial tension, and blood pressure. Together, these could prompt changes in blood flow that encourage blood clots as well as trigger inflammation.
Letting your anger out explosively may be harmful because it triggers surges in stress hormones and injures blood vessel linings. One study from Washington State University found that people over the age of 50 who express their anger by lashing out are more likely to have calcium deposits in their coronary arteries — an indication that you’re at a high risk for a heart attack — than their mellower peers.
That said, simply holding in your anger isn’t the answer either. This has been linked to increases in blood pressure and heart rate. A new study even found that suppressing your anger may triple your risk of having a heart attack.
It’s likely that the abrupt increase in risk of cardiovascular events following anger is also related to the flood of stress hormones your body is exposed to following extreme stress. For instance, adrenaline increases your blood pressure and your heart rate, and it's been suggested it may lead to narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to your heart, or even bind directly to heart cells allowing large amounts of calcium to enter and render the cells temporarily unable to function properly.
7 More Steps to Protect Your Heart
The INTERHEART study, which looked at heart disease risk factors in over 50 countries around the world, found that 90 percent of heart disease cases are completely preventable by modifying diet and lifestyle factors.13 In addition to looking out for your emotional health as described above, you can further take control of your health, including your heart health, by paying attention to these positive lifestyle changes for your heart:
- Diet: Shift toward a nutrient-dense-food-based diet with higher fat and lower carbohydrate intake, such as my nutrition plan
- Intermittent fasting is a powerful tool to lower your body fat and normalize your insulin and leptin resistance
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
- Exercise regularly, and make sure to incorporate high-intensity interval exercises, as they are particularly effective for improving insulin and leptin sensitivity
- Avoid sitting too much, as this can have a direct adverse effect on insulin and leptin sensitivity
- Minimize your exposure to environmental toxins as much as possible
- Optimize your gut health by eating fermented foods, soluble fiber that enriches your beneficial gut flora, and avoid food toxins that harm your gut flora
So how exactly does anger contribute to heart disease? Scientists don't know for sure, but anger might produce direct physiological effects on the heart and arteries. Emotions such as anger and hostility quickly activate the “fight or flight response,” in which stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, speed up your heart rate and breathing and give you a burst of energy. Blood pressure also rises as your blood vessels constrict.
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