Stress & Heart Disease

Stress can be poisonous.

We’ve known that for a long time, but a recent study linked emotional stress to heart disease in a new and interesting way – via the amygdala.

A team of researchers from Harvard Medical School scanned the brain, bone marrow, spleen and arteries of 300 people over the course of 4 years. Of the 300 people, 22 developed heart disease. Those same 22 people also had the highest levels of amygdala activity. The amygdala is a small part of the brain that plays a large role in the fight or flight reflex (amongst other things).

One theory is that when we start to get stressed out, our amygdala starts to light up.

When the amygdala lights up, it sends signals to bone marrow to start producing white blood cells. The white blood cells then lead to inflammation in the arteries (a precursor to heart disease).

What does all this research have to do with daily life? It’s just one more illustration of why we should take our stress levels seriously. The researchers even went so far as to say that stress could be as serious of a risk factor for heart disease as smoking.

Next time you’re feeling stressed out, maybe take some time to go for a run, practice some breathing exercises, or talk to a trusted friend or therapist. It might not just be good for your mood. It might also be good for your heart.

Eric McClerren, LAPC

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