The Amygdala: The connection between stress and heart disease

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A recent study conducted by Harvard Medical School and published by UK medical journal The Lancet suggests that the effect of constant stress on a deep-lying region of the brain could potentially explain the link between the risk of heart attack and stress.[1]

Experts and scientific studies coincide that emotional stress can have a serious negative effect on the increase risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Stress affects the body in many ways, one of which being directly affecting the heart and blood vessels. Some experts even believe that emotional stress can be just as dangerous a risk factor as smoking and high blood pressure.[2]

Medical professionals have had little understanding until now about the link between stress, the brain and heart disease. However, this recent study, conducted by Harvard Medical School, suggests that the effect stress has on the amygdala section of the brain has a direct correlation with the increase of heart risk and failure.

The amygdala is an area of the brain that processes several emotions including fear and anger. 300 people participated in the study and were tracked for almost four years. When investigators analysed the progression of their brain scans, bone marrow, spleen and arteries, they discovered that the 22 subjects with greater activity in the amygdala region of the brain had in fact developed CVD.

Their conclusions suggest that when a person is under stress, this complex region of the brain signals the bone marrow to increase production of white blood cells. An excess of white blood cells can cause arterial inflammation and ultimately lead to the development of cardiovascular disease. This inflammation can cause strokes, angina (pectoris) and even heart attacks.

When the BBC interviewed Dr. Ahmed Tawakol, lead author and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, he explained: “Our results provide a unique insight into how stress may lead to cardiovascular disease. This raises the possibility that reducing stress could produce benefits that extend beyond an improved sense of psychological wellbeing.”

While it is always recommendable to keep our stress levels in check and practice calming activities to help us wind down, this study only fortifies the importance of doing so. Heavy workloads, family struggles, financial insecurity are a part of modern society. We truly must ask ourselves the real cost of our life choices and societal obligations.

[1] The Lancet

[2] BBC Health

 

 

 

Sources:

The Lancet

BBC Health

Harvard Medical School

Reuters

 

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