By Dr. Mercola
Intense emotion is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke, particularly in the first hours after the emotion occurs. While prevention efforts typically focus on more concrete steps like physical exercise, not smoking, and a healthier diet, it's just as important, if not more so, to tend to your emotional health as well.
A new systematic review involving data on 5,000 heart attacks, 800 strokes, and 300 cases of arrhythmia revealed that not only does anger increase your risk of heart attack, arrhythmia, and stroke, but the risk also rises with frequent anger episodes.1
Intense Anger Boosts Heart Attack Risk Five-Fold, Stroke Risk Three-Fold
According to the study, when a person is angry their risk of heart attack increases by nearly five-fold and their risk of stroke goes up more than three-fold in the two hours following an angry outburst (compared to when they are not angry). The risk was even greater among those who had a history of heart problems.
Those most at risk following anger episodes were those with underlying risk factors and those who got angry frequently. As reported by Medical News Today:2
"The researchers calculated that the annual rate of heart attack per 10,000 people who were angry only once a month would go up by one among those with low cardiovascular risk, and by four in those with high cardiovascular risk.
However, for those who had five outbursts of anger per day, this figure shoots up to 158 extra heart attacks per 10,000 heart attacks each year for those with low cardiovascular risk, and 657 extra heart attacks for those with high cardiovascular risk."
How Does Anger Harm Your Heart?
Negative emotions like anger trigger a cascade of physical reactions that extend throughout your body, including increases in heart rate, arterial tension, and blood pressure. Together, these could prompt changes in blood flow that encourage blood clots as well as trigger inflammation.
Letting your anger out explosively may be harmful because it triggers surges in stress hormones and injures blood vessel linings. One study from Washington State University found that people over the age of 50 who express their anger by lashing out are more likely to have calcium deposits in their coronary arteries -- an indication that you're at a high risk for a heart attack -- than their mellower peers.3
That said, simply holding in your anger isn't the answer either. This has been linked to increases in blood pressure and heart rate. A new study even found that suppressing your anger may triple your risk of having a heart attack.4
It's likely that the abrupt increase in risk of cardiovascular events following anger is also related to the flood of stress hormones your body is exposed to following extreme stress. For instance, adrenaline increases your blood pressure and your heart rate, and it's been suggested it may lead to narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to your heart, or even bind directly to heart cells allowing large amounts of calcium to enter and render the cells temporarily unable to function properly.
Grief and Other Intense Emotions Also Increase Heart Risks
It's not only anger that increases your risk of heart attacks; other intense emotions seem to play a similar role. Researchers found, for instance, that losing a significant person in your life raises your risk of having a heart attack the next day by 21 times and in the following week by six times.5
The risk of heart attacks began to decline after about a month had passed, perhaps as levels of stress hormones begin to level out.
Mounting research also shows that people exposed to traumatic and/or long-term stressors, such as combat veterans, New Orleans residents who went through Hurricane Katrina, and Greeks struggling through financial turmoil, have higher rates of cardiac problems than the general population.
In one such study, which involved nearly 208,000 veterans aged 46 to 74, 35 percent of those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) developed insulin resistance in two years, compared to only 19 percent of those not diagnosed with PTSD.6
Insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes and hardening of the arteries. PTSD sufferers also had higher rates of metabolic syndrome — a collection of risk factors that raise your risk of heart disease, such as high body fat, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. More than half (about 53 percent) of veterans with PTSD had several of these symptoms, compared to 37 percent of those not suffering with PTSD.
It's now undeniable that your emotional health engages in a continuous, intricate dance with your physical health, such that it is virtually impossible to untangle the two. As noted by Dr. Stephen Sinatra:7
"Suppressed anger, rage, loss of vital connection (heartbreak), and emotional isolation and lack of intimacy with others are all 'hidden' emotional risk factors that can contribute to the development of heart disease. Many cardiologists fail to recognize these psycho-emotional factors which often underlie other commonly recognized risk factors such as excessive smoking, inappropriate diet, and even high blood pressure and cholesterol levels."
A Positive Outlook Reduces Your Heart Attack Risk by One-Third
If negative emotions have the potential to harm your heart, it would stand to reason that positive emotions may heal it… and this indeed seems to be the case. In a study of nearly 1,500 people with an increased risk of early-onset coronary artery disease, those who reported being cheerful, relaxed, satisfied with life, and full of energy had a one-third reduction in coronary events like a heart attack.8
Those with the highest risk of coronary events enjoyed an even greater risk reduction of nearly 50 percent. This was true even when other heart disease risk factors, such as smoking, age, and diabetes, were taken into account. Separate research has similarly found:
- Positive psychological well-being is associated with a consistent reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD)9
- Emotional vitality may protect against risk of CHD in men and women10
- Cheerful heart disease patients live longer than pessimistic heart patients11
- Very optimistic people have lower risks of dying from any cause, as well as lower risks of dying from heart disease, compared to highly pessimistic people12
You can use meditative approaches as Dr. Brogan discusses in the video below to also help you limit these outbursts.
The 'Recipe' for Emotional Wellness
If you've committed to other heart-healthy lifestyle changes like following my nutrition plan and exercising, you'll want to be sure you're also actively supporting your emotional health. First, if anger is an issue for you, I recommend using energy psychology techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). EFT can reprogram your body's reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life by stimulating different energy meridian points in your body.
It's done by tapping on specific key locations with your fingertips while custom-made verbal affirmations are said repeatedly. This can be done alone or under the supervision of a qualified therapist (seeking the help of a licensed EFT therapist is particularly recommended if you're dealing with trauma-based stress such as PTSD, grief following the loss of a loved one or severe anger).There are also many other stress-management strategies you can employ to help you unwind and address your stress, including:
- Exercise. Studies have shown that during exercise, tranquilizing chemicals (endorphins) are released in your brain. Exercise is a natural way to bring your body pleasurable relaxation and rejuvenation, and has been shown to help protect against the physical effects of daily stress
- Restorative sleep
- Meditation (with or without the additional aid of brain wave synchronization technology)
- Schedule time to eat without rushing, and make sure to maintain optimal gut health by regularly consuming fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables, or taking a high-quality probiotic supplement
Beyond this, applying the inverse paranoid principle, as taught by W. Clement Stone, has been a guiding helpful principle for me for many years to help address life's challenges. Admittedly, it isn't always easy, but the benefits are profound. Unlike a conventional paranoid who believes the world is out to get him, an inverse paranoid believes the opposite: that every awful tragedy that befalls you ultimately is for some purpose that will benefit you far more than you can possibly imagine, even if you are unable to see it at the time.
Applying this principal can help you to get through even challenging times while maintaining a brighter outlook. Additionally, those who are happy tend to follow a certain set of habits that create peace in their lives. If you learn to apply these habits in your own life, there's a good chance you'll be happier (and your heart will be healthier) too.
1. Let go of grudges 2. Treat everyone with kindness 3. Regard your problems as challenges 4. Express gratitude for what you have 5. Dream big 6. Don't sweat the small stuff 7. Speak well of others 8. Avoid making excuses 9. Live in the present 10. Wake up at the same time every morning 11. Don't compare yourself to others 12. Surround yourself with positive people 13. Realize that you don't need others' approval 14. Take time to listen 15. Nurture social relationships 16. Meditate 17. Eat well 18. Exercise 19. Live minimally 20. Be honest 21. Establish personal control 22. Accept what cannot be changed
7 More Steps to Protect Your Heart
The INTERHEART study, which looked at heart disease risk factors in over 50 countries around the world, found that 90 percent of heart disease cases are completely preventable by modifying diet and lifestyle factors.13 In addition to looking out for your emotional health as described above, you can further take control of your health, including your heart health, by paying attention to these positive lifestyle changes for your heart:
- Diet: Shift toward a nutrient-dense-food-based diet with higher fat and lower carbohydrate intake, such as my nutrition plan
- Intermittent fasting is a powerful tool to lower your body fat and normalize your insulin and leptin resistance
- Make sure you're getting enough sleep
- Exercise regularly, and make sure to incorporate high-intensity interval exercises, as they are particularly effective for improving insulin and leptin sensitivity
- Avoid sitting too much, as this can have a direct adverse effect on insulin and leptin sensitivity
- Minimize your exposure to environmental toxins as much as possible
- Optimize your gut health by eating fermented foods, soluble fiber that enriches your beneficial gut flora, and avoid food toxins that harm your gut flora (i.e. sugar