Long Term Stress Linked To Heart Attacks

Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

IN BRIEF

Not only is stress uncomfortable in the moment, but prolonged stress can cause dis-ease in the long term as well. Here are some ways to manage and even prevent stress in your day-to-day life.

Stress is an everyday fact of life. But what effect can it have on the health of your heart, and can too much stress be a major factor in cardiovascular disease

When the body reacts to stress it releases a series of hormones to protect itself. However, constant, or chronic stress is thought to be harmful and may lead to several health issues, including problems with the heart. Studies suggest that the common risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure, blood sugar, high blood cholesterol, and an increase in fatty acids (triglycerides) are linked to high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

What Is Cortisol?

Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone and is increased during periods of mental or emotional pressure. It is also known to kick-start the flight-or-fight response in times of crisis and angst.  

Cortisol plays an important role in managing various functions in the body such as:

  • Helping to balance blood pressure.
  • Controlling blood sugar levels.
  • Regulating the body’s metabolism and immune system.
  • Managing sleep patterns.

Cortisol is ever-present in our bodies, however, If the body produces too much cortisol due to stress, the immune system can be suppressed. Increased blood pressure and sugar production can contribute to health issues such as obesity, and may lead to the onset of diabetes, and cardiovascular problems too. (1)  

New Techniques Measuring Stress In Hair Samples

Research techniques unveiled at Linköping University in Sweden have found long-term stress increases the risk of a heart attack due to high levels of cortisol. New biomarkers that measure cortisol in hair may be able to determine stress levels before a heart attack. And while there are other factors in developing cardiovascular diseases such as lifestyle and family history, knowing how to control or stave off stress may reduce the risks.

During the study, samples of hair 1-3 centimeters in length (equivalent to 1-3 months of hair growth) were taken from 174 men and women who had suffered from heart attacks and compared to samples taken from 3000 similarly-aged participants who had not. The results showed patients who had suffered heart attacks had significantly higher levels of cortisol during the month before the event. (2) 

Other Studies

Previous research has also shown connections between stress and heart attacks. Constant stress has been linked to areas of the brain that processes emotions, resulting in an increased likelihood of developing heart disease. The research looked at brain scans, which showed that when stressed, the amygdala, the area of the brain that deals with stress, sends signals to the bone marrow creating extra white blood cells. This causes the arteries to become inflamed, increasing the risk of heart attacks. 

The study suggests that stress could be as important of a risk factor as smoking or high blood pressure. (3) 

Relieve Stress Through Healthy Living

During periods of stress, the brain reacts to protect itself from danger by releasing hormones around the body. Once the perceived danger has passed hormone levels will return to normal. Prolonged or chronic bouts of stress and anxiety may lead to a host of serious health conditions. (4) Here are just a few: 

  • High blood pressure
  • Palpitations or rapid heartbeat
  • Sleep disruption
  • Poor digestion 
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and knowing the trigger points to prevent the onset of chronic stress, can be key to preventing some of those problems from becoming reality. Many people who suffer from chronic stress may turn to lifestyle habits such as smoking, excess alcohol intake, and overeating. Managing lifestyle choices correctly can lead to healthier living and a reduction or more effective management of stress.

Adopting a Healthy Diet

Eating a healthy, nutrient-packed diet can help reduce the risk of diet-related illness and obesity. 

The Mediterranean diet supports the daily intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and healthy fats. Fish, poultry, beans, and eggs at least once per week. Average amounts of dairy products, and a limited intake of red meats such as beef, pork, or lamb.

Research has shown the benefits of a Mediterranean diet rich in inflammatory-reducing, antioxidant, and anti-aging properties. (5) 

The occasional glass of red wine may also have some health benefits. However, as with all alcohol consumption, it is important to keep well within safe limits. (6) 

And don’t forget to treat yourself. Dark chocolate has also been shown to have some health benefits and is full of antioxidants. (7) 

Physical Activity

The benefits of regular exercise are well known. It can increase blood flow, strengthen the heart, boost lung capacity and release feel-good endorphins. (8) 

Aim to exercise for approximately 30 minutes each day. Work out with a friend to help with motivation or take your dog for an extra-long walk.

Quit smoking

Many people smoke to relax and reduce anxiety or nervousness. However, smoking actually increases anxiety and tension and can cause physical symptoms like headaches, breathlessness, and irritable behavior. 

Avoid Stressful Situations

While stress is a natural reaction to everyday living, try to avoid situations, topics, or people who add to anxiety or stress you out. 

Think Positively 

Adopt behaviors that promote positive thinking such as meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, and breathing exercises. These can all contribute to reducing stress. Use Be Serene to aid relaxation and reduce stress and anxiety before these activities. The natural and pure ingredients packed inside Be Serene capsules can nurture a sense of calm and togetherness, and support a sanguine outlook on life. By relaxing the mind and body you will be able to think more clearly and hopefully deal with stress effectively. 

Connect With Friends, New or Old

Pick up the phone, go for a lunch date, take a class or join a club. Volunteering is also an excellent way to meet new people. Helping others can give us a happiness boost. Most of all enjoy yourself and learn to laugh out loud. (9)  

Chronic, long-term stress has been intrinsically linked to heart attacks and other health conditions. By using stress as a motivation it can be used to your advantage by adopting a healthy lifestyle. And while you may not be able to change situations, your response may be able to change the outcome, leading a healthy balanced life. 

Sources

  1. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol#1
  2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/210210133320.htm 
  3. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)31714-7/fulltext 
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/#:~:text=Abstract,are%20known%20as%20stress%20responses
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801 
  6. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265635#heart 
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24100674/#:~:text=Because%20of%20its%20antioxidant%20properties,by%20inhibiting%20nuclear%20factor%2D%CE%BAB
  8. https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression#1 
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921311/

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About Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

Dr. Morgan is an expert in Functional and Integrative Medicine with a Strong Emphasis in stress related illnesses like anxiety and insomnia. In addition to his 20 years of work in Functional Medicine, he has expanded his practice to include work on the deeper aspects of our being that point to the root cause of our illnesses working with Mind Body Wellness, Energy Medicine, and Healing with Consciousness.
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heart health, stress, stress responses