While most of people, including doctors and medical researchers are well aware of the role that certain factors play in our chances of developing heart disease, high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure, a family history, etc., we don’t pay much attention to the role psychological factors such as distress plays.

A study reported in the Journal of  the American College of Cardiology conducted in England by researchers at the University College in London, sought to determine the extent to which behavioral and pathophysiological risk factors account for a relationship between psychological distress (stress) and the incident of cardiovascular events (heart attack, stroke, etc.).

It is known that the intermediate processes through which stress (psychological distress) increase the risk of heart disease are not fully understood.  An understanding of these biochemical and physiological reactions is crucial to treat the psychological distress in an effort to lower the risk for cardiovascular disease.

A study involving  6,576 healthy men and women, with an average  age of 51 years (ranging from 38 to 64 years), the researchers measured stress using  General Health Questionnaire and lifestyle activities (smoking, alcohol consumption and physical activity).  Laboratory tests measuring  indicators of heart disease including cholesterol, C-reactive protein, HDL cholesterol, obesity and high blood pressure were measured at the beginning of the study.

Hospitalization for heart attack, coronary artery bypass, stroke, heart failure, angioplasty and CVD related death were also monitored.

The researchers found that cigarette smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption, C-reactive protein and high blood pressure (hypertension) were associated with psychological distress.

The participants experienced 223 events, 63 caused death over 7 years. 

They found that the lifestyle factors were the greatest contributors where as the laboratory modest cont impacts on the incident.

The association between stress and CVD risk is largely mediated by lifestyle.  Therefore, the researchers concluded that the treatment of psychological distress that seeks to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease, risk should primarily focus on health behavior change.

So if you are interested in reducing your risk of developing heart disease, the findings of this study urge you to consider your lifestyle and behaviors.

  1.  If you smoke, it is never too late to stop.
  2. If you’re overweight, talk to your doctor about a reasonable and appropriate weight loss program
  3. If you have high blood pressure, get on a holistic treatment program, one that includes stress reduction
  4. Monitor your alcohol consumption and keep it in the moderate range (1-2 drinks daily)