It is thought that persisting stress increases the risk for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease by evoking negative emotions that, in turn, raise the levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body.
Researchers have now investigated the underlying neural circuitry of this process, and report their findings in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry. “Drawing upon the observation that many of the same brain areas involved in emotion are also involved in sensing and regulating levels of inflammation in the body, we hypothesized that brain activity linked to negative emotions – specifically efforts to regulate negative emotions – would relate to physical signs of risk for heart disease,” explained Dr. Peter Gianaros, Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and first author on the study.
They found that individuals who show greater brain activation when regulating their negative emotions also exhibit elevated blood levels of interleukin-6, one of the body’s pro-inflammatory cytokines, and increased thickness of the carotid artery wall, a marker of atherosclerosis.
The inflammation levels accounted for the link between signs of atherosclerosis and brain activity patterns seen during emotion regulation. Importantly, the findings were significant even after controlling for a number of different factors, like age, gender, smoking, and other conventional heart disease risk factors.
Source: Medical News Today.