Depression, Hostility Encourage Heart Disease
> 2/14/2008 8:47:21 AM

Heart disease, the world's number-one killer, has once again been closely linked with mental illness. Chronic depression and anxiety have for some time been known to hasten the slide into physical infirmity that so often accompanies the aging process, but a new study names depression and personal "hostility" as complimentary factors in the heart disease equation. Each of these elements damage quality-of-life readings on their own, but when combined they can significantly increase the likelihood of early death from heart disease.

The idea that negative emotions and a generally unpleasant disposition can speed one's physical and cognitive decline seems a bit facetious, but repeated research bears it out, providing more-than-sufficient statistical evidence of the depression/heart disease link: rates of heart disease are twice as high among depressed individuals and vice versa; depressed patients are, according to disparate studies, as much as 400% more likely to suffer heart attacks within a given 14-year period; they've demonstrated reduced blood flow in clinical studies; when they do have heart attacks, they are 4 times as likely to die in the 6 months afterward. In fact, severe depression is as reliable a predictor of heart attack as high cholesterol, blood sugar in diabetics, or even the occurrence of a previous heart attack.

Even without diagnosable depression, older individuals who score high on surveys assessing anger and interpersonal hostility have been proven to be at far greater risk of suffering the cardiovascular damage caused by inflammatory proteins. These particular proteins are produced by the immune system in response to internal irritations caused by injury and infection; their increased presence has been proven to be a very good indicator of cardiovascular risk relating to heart attack, angina, diabetes, stroke, and constricted or clogged arteries. Smoking, alcoholism and obesity all serve as primary contributing factors to their buildup, and depression or undiagnosed emotional instability appears to play just as large a role. In independent studies, men who scored particularly high on measures of irritability and anger in stressful situations were as many as 5 times as likely to suffer heart attacks by the age of 55 as their control group peers. Similar research found that, among elderly women, severe depression and hostility were more influential than smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol in determining the later prevalence of heart disease.

The newest research on this topic indicates a near-incestuous relationship between depression and personal hostility in anticipating various cardiovascular diseases. Not only do the two, in combination, lead to far higher rates of heart failure and malfunction, but the degree of that effect appears to be directly tied to the severity of depression in each patient. Researchers monitored 316 healthy men and women aged 50-70 and noted the presence, in their blood, of two specific proteins known to be very accurate predictors of heart disease. Their results confirm that simultaneous symptoms of depression and hostility led to exponentially higher rates of inflammatory proteins and that patients suffering from the most extreme depressive symptoms also had the highest presence of these substances in their bloodstreams.

Patients suffering from chronic depression and anxiety very rarely make the best possible choices regarding their own physical health. Alcohol and tobacco abuse, poor diet and lack of exercise are all more common behaviors among depressed individuals. A complimentary explanation for higher rates of heart disease among their number: unrelentingly misanthropic or confrontational worldviews create a state of constant stress that serves to compromise the efficiency of all bodily systems, and inflammatory proteins are not the only factors in play. Long-term stress leads to increased and erratic heart rates (arrhythmia), higher blood pressure, poor cholesterol management and, yes, the further accumulation of detrimental fat deposits. One's body can only withstand so much compulsive negativity, and positive thinking can, quite literally, extend the lifespan. But without organized treatment and/or personal intervention, these habitual mindsets may prove nearly impossible to counteract.

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