Every once in a while, a new study reveals the science that underlies a great mystery. A new report on the connection between the stress, inflammation, and heart disease does exactly that.
A recent paper published in the international journal, The Lancet, examines how activity in the brain’s stress center relates to inflammation and, ultimately, to heart disease.
The study used a very high tech method of measuring the metabolic “traffic” in the body, a PET or Positron Emission Tomography scan. PET scans display images that “light up” depending on the the cellular activity throughout the body. Activity was tracked in the amygdala (the brain’s stress center), the bone marrow (where inflammatory cells are made) and in the arteries.
Participants were then followed to see how many developed heart attacks, strokes, and other vascular problems.
The results were striking: a strong link was uncovered between activity in the brain’s stress center, the amygdala, and serious cardiovascular complications. The association held firm even when adjusted for other known risk factors.
But the study went one step further to examine how activation of the brain’s stress center led to heart attacks. The missing link… inflammation.
When the amygdala is “stressed out”, the bone marrow, where inflammatory cells are made, is mobilized to churn out white blood cells. These warrior cells head straight to the arteries, which literally light up PET scans with inflammatory changes.
That completes the stress circuit: from activation of the amygdala in the brain, to mobilization of an army of white blood cells in the bone marrow, to an all out inflammatory assault on the arteries. And inflammation spells trouble because it weakens blood vessels and sets them up for heart attacks and strokes.
Although many of us are familiar with the concept of certain foods being pro-inflammatory, the idea of our mind being the source of inflammation, or its relief, is not commonly recognized.
No wonder why a recent study of meditation, published in one of the most prestigious cardiology journals, showed a nearly 50% reduction in serious heart complications among patients with heart disease who added regular meditation to their conventional treatment program compared to those on medication alone.
Don’t let too much stress get under your skin, or in your arteries. You’re in control-use all of your power to, quite literally, mind your heart!