Scientists believe anger may alter the immune system in a similar manner to how stress causes chronic inflammation. Anger kills—isn’t a new concept in medical circles. Since the late 1960s researchers have evaluated its link to heart disease.
A study consisting of 670 men, from 45 to 87, participants in the US Normative Aging study, with an average age of 62, followed since 1986 when their levels of hostility were first measured.
They were monitored for 8 years, during which time their lung function was also documented on three separate occasions.
The study published in Thorax found their lung function varied in relation to their initial hostility level.
It was significantly poorer among those men deemed to exhibit high levels of anger and hostility compared with those who exhibited medium to low levels.
But it was also worse at each examination throughout the period of study.
Although the impact was lessened, the association held true even after taking account of factors likely to influence the findings, such as smoking and educational attainment.
Higher levels of hostility were also associated with a faster rate of the natural decline in lung function that occurs with aging.
Each point increase in hostility score was associated with a loss of FEV1— the volume of air that can be forced out of the lungs in one second, and a measure of lung power —of 9 ml a year compared with men whose hostility levels were lower.
The authors point out that hostility and anger have been associated with cardiovascular disease, death, and asthma, and that previous research has suggested that changes in mood can have short term effects on the lungs.
Anger and hostility will alter neurological and hormonal processes, which in turn may disturb immune system activity, producing chronic inflammation, suggest the authors.
An accompanying editorial comments that the physiological components of anger and stress overlap, and stress is well known to affect the immune system.
“Indeed it is hard to find a disease for which emotion or stress plays absolutely no part in symptom severity, frequency, or intensity of flare-ups,” writes Dr Paul Lehrer of the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey , USA .
But he cautions that associations do not necessarily equate to cause. “Personality, as well as physiology, can change over time, and deterioration in health and physical function can lead to negative emotion as well as vice versa, including for respiratory
Source: Thorax 2006;61:863-868 doi:10.1136/thx.2005
Am J Epidemiol. 2010 Feb 19