Dr. Dean Ornish answered:
In addition to causing your arteries to constrict and your blood to clot more readily, chronic emotional stress may cause plaque to build up faster in your arteries. Studies of monkeys, which are genetically similar to humans, found that monkeys that were emotionally stressed by their social networks being disrupted had significantly more coronary artery blockages (atherosclerosis) than did another group of monkeys that wasn’t put under stress, even though both groups of monkeys were on the same diet.
In another study by the same investigators, monkeys who were stressed showed constriction of their coronary arteries even when on a low cholesterol diet.
In the INTERHEART study, emotional stress was found to be as potent a risk factor for heart disease as cholesterol, smoking, and lack of exercise. In one study, for example, public speaking about a topic that was personally relevant caused reduced blood flow to the heart and abnormal beats in the majority of patients. In another study, 75 percent of people with heart disease who were subjected to moderate mental stress showed abnormalities in the ability of the heart to pump blood.
Mental stress can trigger a lack of blood flow to the heart and increase the risk of death in people with coronary artery disease. Researchers asked heart patients to talk on an assigned topic for five minutes. The topic required role-playing in which a close relative was being mistreated in a nursing home. They found that heart patients who had reduced blood flow to their heart in response to mental stress had a threefold increase in the risk of death five years later compared to people without mental stress.
Being in a stressful environment without much control over it is especially toxic to your heart. This is one of the reasons why people of lower socioeconomic status have higher rates of heart disease even when scientists adjust their findings for other known risk factors. Marital stress also increases the risk of a heart attack as well as increasing the rate of plaque buildup in coronary arteries.Find out more about this book: The Spectrum: A Scientifically Proven Program to Feel Better, Live Longer,...In addition to causing your arteries to constrict and your blood to clot more readily, chronic emotional stress may cause plaque to build up faster in your arteries. Studies of monkeys, which are genetically similar to humans, found that monkeys... More