The Amygdala, Heart Health & Stress.

“While the link between stress and heart disease has long been established, the mechanism mediating that risk has not been clearly understood.” ~Dr. Ahmed Tawakol

Psychological stress wreaks havoc in the body, causing hypertension, ulcers, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Studies performed in animals have found that stress increases the manufacturing of white blood cells in bone marrow, leading to inflammation. Despite the correlation, it remains unclear how stress and inflammation (disease) are linked. 

Recently, two studies published in The Lancet, provide new insights explaining the relationship between heart health, psychological stress and its origination. Dr. Ahmed Tawakol and his team from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) in New York designed a dual investigation of the brain’s emotional processing center and its direct impact on the health of the heart. 

Dr. Tawakol and his team showed an association between the likelihood of cardiac events and the amygdala (responsible for emotional processing). At the initiation of the study, high levels of activity in the amygdala were associated with high risk of a cardiac event. The researchers proved a significant association including a discovery: increased high activity levels in the amygdala predicted the timing of these events, specifically more severe cardiac events. Similar to the animal studies, raised activity levels in the amygdala accelerated the metabolism in the regions responsible for creating blood cells (bone marrow/spleen), producing arterial inflammation.  

“This pioneering study provides more evidence of a heart-brain connection, by elucidating a link between resting metabolic activity in the amygdala, a marker of stress, and subsequent cardiovascular events independently of established cardiovascular risk factors. We also show that amygdalar activity is related to increased associated perceived stress and to an increased vascular inflammation and hematopoietic activity.” ~Zahi A. Fayad, Ph.D., co-senior author

Dr. Tawakol advises individuals who are at risk for cardiovascular disease, to adhere to stress reduction practices in order to alleviate psychological stress. 

Read the full article here.

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