Stress Heart Risks: New Studies Show How Stress Affects Cardiovascular Health

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By Brett Spiegel

Stress can make your hair fall out and cause you to lose sleep, and it can also seriously impact your cardiovascular health. Here are three recent studies on how to gauge and manage stress for ideal heart health:

1. A new study published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism looks at how hair analysis in elderly people can reveal potential heart disease risk.

Over three months, researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, used scalp hair analysis to identify patterns in levels of cortisol -- a stress hormone -- in roughly 300 seniors. They found that those with elevated cortisol levels over a period of time were more likely to be at risk for cardiovascular disease, and they also were more likely to have a history of stroke, diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, and coronary heart disease.

"The data showed a clear link between chronically elevated cortisol levels and cardiovascular disease," added study coauthor Elisabeth van Rossum, MD, PhD.

2. Research published in Medical Hypotheses, and conducted at Boston University School of Medicine, New York Medical College, and the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, found that pairing standard treatments a mind-body yoga approach to managing stress helped atrial fibrillation patients maintain their health and stay on treatment.

"Western and Eastern medicine complement one another. Yoga is known to improve stress-related nervous system imbalances," said lead study author Chris Streeter, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at BUSM and Boston Medical Center, in a press release.

3. Another recent study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that the risk for stress-related heart attack increased significantly for unemployed middle-aged to elderly people and rose higher with each subsequent job loss.

"In a very stressful situation [like unemployment], you can actually get a severe release of adrenaline and sympathetic nerve discharges that cause the heart to beat irregularly," said John Higgins, MD, a sports cardiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

"Most of us know the common risk factors for heart disease, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and genetics, but about 25 to 35 percent of heart disease remains unexplained," said Kavitha Chinnaiyan, MD, director of cardiac imaging at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. "Psychosocial factors likely play a role in these unexplained cases. More and more studies have been looking at stress, anger, sudden stress and major life changes like losing a job, and all of these can have a major effect on cardiovascular events."

"The Toll Stress Takes on Your Heart" originally appeared on Everyday Health.

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