Is stress continually pumping through your veins? Even if your blood pressure is normal now, high levels of stress can put you at risk for developing hypertension in the next decade or so, a new study found.
When the stress hormone cortisol continues to rise over time, you may also be at increased risk for a stroke, heart attack or heart disease, according to research published this Monday (13) in Circulation, the Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA).
It’s yet another study that illustrates the link between a person’s mind and heart health, said cardiologist Glenn Levine, a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who was not involved in the study.
“Stress, depression, frustration, anger, and a negative outlook on life not only make us unhappy people, they negatively impact our health and longevity,” said Levine, who chaired the AHA’s scientific statement on the connection between good. being mental and heart disease.
“In developing the AHA statement, we analyzed all the data we could find and concluded that negative psychological health factors such as stress were clearly associated with many cardiovascular risk factors,” said Levine.
The good news, Levine said, is that because the mind, heart, and body are interconnected and interdependent, a person can also improve their cardiovascular health by striving for a positive psychological outlook.
“You can decide to change your mindset about this stressful situation or set limits – just by being aware that you can prevent stress from becoming toxic to you,” said stress management expert Cynthia Ackrill, editor of Contentment magazine, produced by American Institute of Stress. “We shouldn’t discount our ability to play a role in our well-being,” said Ackrill, who was not involved in the study.
Greater impact on young people
The new study followed 412 multiracial adults aged 48 to 87 years with normal blood pressure, measuring levels of stress hormones in urine at various times between 2005 and 2018. Hormonal levels were compared to any cardiovascular events that might have occurred, such as hypertension , heart pain, heart attacks and bypass surgery.
“Previous research has focused on the relationship between stress hormone levels and hypertension or cardiovascular events in patients with existing hypertension. However, studies were lacking in adults without hypertension,” said the research author, Dr. Kosuke Inoue, assistant professor of social epidemiology at Kyoto University in Japan, in a statement.
The study tested three hormones – norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine – which regulate the autonomic nervous system and control involuntary body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. Inoue and his team also looked at levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone that is released by the body in response to acute stress such as danger.
Once the danger passes, the body reduces cortisol production, but if a person is continually stressed, cortisol levels can remain elevated. “Norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine and cortisol can increase with the stress of life events, work, relationships, finances and more,” said Inoue.
Doubling cortisol levels alone — but not norepinephrine, epinephrine or dopamine — was associated with a 90 percent higher risk of suffering a cardiovascular event, the study found. Each time the combined levels of all four stress hormones doubled, the risk of developing high blood pressure increased between 21% and 31%.
The effect was more pronounced in people under age 60, a worrying finding, according to the researchers. “In this context, our results hypothesize that stress hormones play a critical role in the pathogenesis of hypertension among the younger population,” they wrote.
The study had limitations, including the lack of a control group and the use of only one measure—urine analysis—to test for stress hormones, the authors note. Still, looking at stress hormones extracted from the urine over time is considered “clean and new,” Levine said.
“It’s a rather objective way, as far as we can say with imperfect tools, of categorizing the people who are likely to be the most stressed most of the time.”
What to do?
How do I know if I’m at risk for heart problems due to high levels of stress hormones? “Although we don’t know what our urine cortisol levels are, there are ways we can learn to reflect on whether we might have some negative psychological factors,” said Levine.
“If we recognize that we tend to get stressed, frustrated or irritated frequently, it’s helpful to reflect on what exactly are the things that bring us to these states,” he added. “Once we do that, we can really sit down and decide carefully, is it worth it to allow these things to get me stressed or frustrated?”
Being aware of what triggers your stress allows you to be able to interrupt automatic hormonal responses before they trigger your circulatory system, Ackrill said. “We get worried about something, so our sympathetic nervous system speeds up everything. We need our heart beating fast to keep our blood pressure high so we have good circulation and we can escape danger.”
“You can intervene earlier, when you’re just starting to mount your stress response, with some deep breathing or other relaxation proposal,” Ackrill added. This will allow the brain’s executive functions to come into play, giving you options for how to handle the situation.
“Often, we let our minds react quickly to something before we really have time to allow our highest levels of cognitive functioning, our prefrontal cortex, to work,” said Levine. “We must pause, ponder, digest, and take a few seconds to decide which is the most skillful way to react.”
(Translated text. Read the original in English.)