Negative emotions impact on overall health.

emotionsA new study published in the issue of Biological Psychiatry has found that the such as anger, anxiety and depression increase the overall risk for heart disease and conditions linked to heart disease such as atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is caused by damage to blood vessels supplying the heart and brain and progresses rapidly depending upon the levels of chemicals in the body called pro-inflammatory cytokines. have been linked to raising the levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body, increasing the risk for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

In this study 157 healthy adult volunteers were asked to regulate their emotional reactions to unpleasant pictures while their brain activity was measured with functional imaging. The researchers also scanned their arteries for of atherosclerosis to assess heart disease risk and measured levels of inflammation in the bloodstream, a major physiological risk factor for atherosclerosis and by heart disease.

It was determined that individuals who show greater brain activation when regulating their also exhibit elevated blood levels of interleukin-6, one of the body’s pro-inflammatory cytokines, and increased thickness of the carotid artery wall, a marker of atherosclerosis.

“Drawing upon the observation that many of the same involved in emotion are also involved in sensing and regulating levels of inflammation in the body, we hypothesized that brain activity linked to , specifically efforts to regulate , would relate to physical of risk for heart disease,” said Dr. Peter Gianaros, Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and first author on the study.

“These new findings agree with the popular belief that emotions are connected to heart health,” said Gianaros. “We think that the mechanistic basis for this connection may lie in the functioning of brain regions important for regulating both emotion and inflammation.”

“It is remarkable to see the links develop between negative emotional states, brain circuits, inflammation, and markers of poor physical health,” said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “As we identify the key mechanisms linking brain and body, we may be able to also break the cycle through which stress and depression impair physical health.”


Peter J. Gianaros, Anna L. Marsland, Dora C.-H. Kuan, Brittney L. Schirda, J. Richard Jennings, Lei K. Sheu, Ahmad R. Hariri, James J. Gross, Stephen B. Manuck. An Inflammatory Pathway Links Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease Risk to Neural Activity Evoked by the Cognitive Regulation of Emotion. Biological Psychiatry, 2014; 75 (9): 738 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.10.012

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