There was more confirmation this year that you may be doing everything right when it comes to heart disease — eating properly, exercising, and following other healthy habits — but if you’re beset by constant stress, you’re sabotaging yourself.
Stress is closely linked to chronic inflammation because when we’re under stress, our bodies pump out hormones such as cortisol, catecholamines, and epinephrine, which increase heart rate, raise blood pressure, and speed up metabolism.
When the stress is acute, these harmful hormones diminish quickly. But when stress is of longer duration, stemming from issues such as money, job security, and personal relationships, the toxic hormones do not go away.
This chronic stress contributes to the formation of plaque in coronary arteries, fueling atherosclerosis and increasing the chance of blood clots that could rupture and cause a heart attack.
One of the most intriguing findings about stress is that people who are hardwired for hostility, anxiety, and depression might also be prone to gain weight when under chronic stress.
This can lead to diabetes and weight gain, which in turn result in cardiovascular disease.
An estimated 13 percent of the population, all Caucasian, carry this particular gene, according to researchers at Duke Medicine, who made the discovery after analyzing genetic data from nearly 6,000 people enrolled in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).
The researchers first found a strong link between the participants who reported high levels of chronic stress factors and an increased amount of belly fat, as measured by a large hip circumference.
Then they tested genetic variation to determine which genes (in combination with stress) seemed to have the biggest influence on hip circumference. They discovered that variations in a gene known as “EBF1” showed the strongest relationship.
In people who had this particular genotype, the more stress, the wider the hip circumference.
The researchers also found that the more chronic stress a person with the gene had, the higher his or her blood glucose level was. Therefore, they were more likely to have diabetes and higher risk of coronary heart disease.
We know that people under chronic stress tend to gain weight, either because of emotional eating patterns or because of the higher levels of cortisol in their blood.
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