According a new medical study, being stressed out can increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, and the key to combating this may be found in calming down our brains.
The concept is not new that there is a very strong link between psychological stress being a source of sickness.
However, when talking about personal stress levels, things become a little more difficult as this type of stress is difficult to measure.
“I think that this relatively vague or insufficient link reduced our enthusiasm of taking stress seriously as an important risk factor,” said Dr. Ahmed Tawakol, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Tawakol’s study was published last week in the online issue of The Lancet and it sheds light on how the amygdala, a key part of the brain that is more active during emotional, stressful times, is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as strokes or heart attacks.
Here is how the study was conducted:
According to the CBC, the researchers gave 293 patients aged 30 or older without cardiovascular disease PET/CT brain imaging scans, mainly for cancer screening and followed them over time.
After an average of nearly four years, activity in the amygdala was significantly associated with cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes, after taking other factors into account. People with more amygdala activity also tended to suffer the events sooner, Tawakol said.
Atop of these findings, an active amygdala was also linked to an increase in bone marrow activity as well as a thickening of the arteries.
These findings are showing a lot of promise in discovering the biological path of how stress can turn deadly.
“We have enough information to tell our patients that if they have cardiovascular disease and are subject to a high degree of stress to consider the possibility of looking for a stress reduction approach,” Tawakol said.
So how does one reduce stress? In many cases, lowering stress can be as easy as practicing mindfulness, which Tawakol said has been shown repeatedly to reduce activity in the amygdala. This is finer supported by a randomized trial of 226 participants, each who were assigned to standard cardiac rehab or the rehabilitation plus stress reduction showed cardiovascular disease events were cut nearly in half over five years with the stress buster training.
This is great news in the fight against cardiovascular disease, especially as reducing stress is not only non-invasive, but it can also have a positive impact on other parts of one’s life.