Stressing too much can be a real killer. Now, scientists have discovered what exactly it may about the mental tension that can cause you to croak well before your time.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School tested activity in the amygdala—a region of the brain associated with stress—bone-marrow activity, and amount of inflammation in the arteries for about 300 people. They discovered that those with the most activity in the amygdala had the highest risk of developing heart disease over a follow up of nearly four years.
As your stress levels rise, so does the action in your amygdala, says lead researcher Ahmed Tawakol, M.D. This causes a ripple effect—your amygdala triggers your bone marrow to churn out more immune cells as a way to fight the stress. But this increase in immune cells can also cause greater inflammation, which can hurt your arteries and leave your heart at risk. (These weird signs can signal heart trouble down the road, too.)
That’s because inflammation thins your arterial wall and makes it more vulnerable to rupture. Your body responds to this thinning by forming a clot as a protective measure to strengthen that wall back up. If this occurs in your coronary artery, it can cause a heart attack. If it forms in the arteries of your head or neck, you can have a stroke.