A new study has found stress impacts the brain in key ways also leads to greater incidences of heart disease, giving credence to the mind-body theory of illness.
The study published in The Lancet found that people who had increased activity in the amygdala, an area of the brain that responds to fear and stress, also had increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
Not only did activity in the amygdala lead to cardiovascular disease and other illnesses, but also those with high levels of amygdala activity developed heart problems sooner than other individuals, HealthDay said.
In addition, higher levels of activity in the amygdala were connected to inflammation in the arteries as well as activity in the bone marrow that makes blood cells, Forbes reported.
“The findings suggest that stress may activate the amygdala, which can then promote extra immune cell production by the bone marrow, that in turn may impact the arteries, causing inflammation, which then could lead to a cardiovascular disease event, such as a heart attack or stroke,” said study author Ahmed Tawakol, Forbes reported.
Although the findings may seem grim, Tawakol pointed out that stress reduction exercises reduce activity in the amygdala, which will mitigate the effects of that activity on the formation of heart disease, Forbes said.
“What matters is how we react to stress,” said Dr. Salman Azhar, who handles stroke services at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, HealthDay reported. “If we manage stress well ... we might be able to change how this ‘stress ball’ in our brain responds, and actually decrease our chances of having a heart attack.”