by Anna-Maree Osborne
A recent study (2017) published in the Lancet concluded that:
“heightened activity in the amygdala — a region of the brain involved in stress — is associated with a greater risk of heart disease and stroke”.
While more research and larger studies may be needed to confirm the mechanism, the researchers suggest that these findings could eventually lead to new ways to target and treat stress-related cardiovascular risk. Hopefully we Counselling practitioners will be at the forefront of these new ways of tackling stress.
It is well known and accepted by the medical profession that smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes are risk factors for cardiovascular disease and this study suggests that now chronic psychosocial stress could also be a risk factor. This is a mind/body connection that I am sure many Counsellors have pondered when treating distressed clients.
“Previously, animal studies identified a link between stress and higher activity in the bone marrow and arteries, but it has remained unclear whether this also applies to humans. Other research has also shown that the amygdala is more active in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression, but before this study no research had identified the region of the brain that links stress to the risk of heart attack and stroke. Those participants in the study with higher amygdala activity had a greater risk of subsequent cardiovascular disease and developed problems sooner than those with lower activity.”
The researchers found that the heightened activity in the amygdala was linked to increased bone marrow activity and inflammation in the arteries, and further suggest that this may cause the increased cardiovascular risk. The authors concluded that a possible biological mechanism, whereby the amygdala signals to the bone marrow to produce extra white blood cells, which in turn act on the arteries causing them to develop plaques and become inflamed, can lead to heart attack and stroke.
This information must now be added to many evidence based studies about the relationship of stress and psychological distress to bodily symptoms, and the importance of Counselling and Psychotherapy to improve psychological well-being and decrease medical costs of treatment by early intervention strategies.
“The Lancet. “How stress may increase risk of heart disease and stroke.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 January 2017. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170111213656.
J. A. Egido, O. Castillo, B. Roig, I. Sanz, M. R. Herrero, M. T. Garay, A. M. Garcia, M. Fuentes, C. Fernandez. Is psycho-physical stress a risk factor for stroke? A case-control study. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 2012; DOI: 10.1136/jnnp-2012-302420