The body's natural survival instincts are not doing us any favors when it comes to stress.
We all know large amounts of stress can take its toll and increase the likelihood of suffering from a heart attack or a stroke but it hasn’t always been clear exactly why this occurs. But new research has uncovered a connection between the brain and the heart that could explain the increased risk.
It’s all down to an area of the brain called the amygdala. In fact there are two amygdala situated on each side of the brain and are heavily involved in emotions, survival instincts, and memory. In terms of survival instincts, the amygdala communicates with the bone marrow telling it to produce more white blood cells in order to protect the body and help it fight infection. This process could be triggered in the case of being attacked which would have proved vital in earlier homosapiens.
The problem with today’s world is the increased stress we endure triggers the process of producing white blood cells more often as it’s the body’s way of protecting itself from harm. In doing this, the overproduction of white blood cells causes plaque to build up in the arteries creating blockages and increased risk of heart attacks.
In the study, led by Dr Ahmed Tawakol of Harvard Medical School, and Massachusetts General Hospital, 293 patients were tracked for an average of 3.7 years having scans that show the activity of the brain, bone marrow and artery inflammation. In the span of the study, 22 participants suffered from heart disease and those who had higher activity in the amygdala saw earlier signs of heart disease than those who did not.
It’s hoped this can help health workers to spot signs of early stress using regular scans.
“Eventually, chronic stress could be treated as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is routinely screened for and effectively managed like other major cardiovascular disease risk factors,” stated Tawakol.
Details of the study were published in The Lancet.