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Stress and health

Its no secret that long-term stress is linked to cardiovascular disease. The exact link has been difficult to pinpoint but a couple of newly published articles provides some valuable insights into this disease.

Excessive stress has been linked to a multitude of health issues ranging from hypertension, ulcers, asthma and irritable bowel syndrome. There are well-documented effects on physical, mental and psychological health. Elevated stress levels has also been found to put additional pressure on heart health. Researchers have for years worked on finding the link between emotions that are constructed in the brain with heart health.

Researchers found that in animal studies, elevated stress levels increases white blood cells in bone marrows, which increases inflammation. Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) in New York designed a double-pronged investigation to gain insight into the link between heart health and stress. Dr. Tawakol and his team were able to show an association between the likelihood of a cardiac event and a specific part of the brain: the amygdala, a region known to be involved in emotional processing. High levels of activity in the amygdala at the start of the study were associated with an increased risk of experiencing a cardiac event.

They also showed that activity in the amygdala could predict the timing of the events. Greater activity levels in the amygdala were also associated with increased metabolism in regions of the body responsible for creating blood cells (bone marrow and spleen) and an increase in arterial inflammation.

Further research will help to deepen our understanding of the so-called amygdala-bone marrow-arterial axis. In the future, medications that target this mechanism may be useful for controlling or minimizing cardiovascular disease. The findings also underscore the importance of addressing stress in order to reduce health risks. As Dr. Tawakol says: "It would be reasonable to advise individuals with increased risk of cardiovascular disease to consider employing stress-reduction approaches if they feel subjected to a high degree of psycho social stress."