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Heart Disease Health Center

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A New Way Hotheads May Be Hurting Their Hearts

WebMD Health News

May 5, 2000 -- Hostility and anger may break your heart. Really.

Researchers from Ohio State University say these toxic emotions may be linked to the levels of a substance that many believe may increase the risk of heart attacks. The study findings suggest that hostility may trigger increases in blood levels of the substance called homocysteine. High levels of this substance are believed to increase the risk of heart disease.

When researcher Catherine M. Stoney, PhD, compared blood levels of homocysteine from persons who participated in a study measuring hostility and anger, she found that more hostile people had higher levels of homocysteine.

Moreover, she found that men who inhibit or suppress their anger have higher levels of homocysteine than men who release their anger. But she found no similar association among the women in the study, which is published in the April 28 issue of the journal Life Sciences.

Stoney and her colleagues measured hostility and anger in the 31 men and 33 women using standard psychological questionnaires. In the hostility questionnaire, "first we try to assess the kind of things that have to do with how one perceived the world and interacts with others," she says. For example, a question might ask if the person thinks other people are "just out to get what they can without regard for others."

The anger questionnaire, she says, asks about ways in which a person reacts to certain situations. Stoney says, "for example, a scenario might be that one's boss is loud and critical. We ask how would you respond? Would you yell back? Would you just be quiet and hold in your anger?"

Stoney says earlier studies suggest that hostility and anger are related to increased activity in the nervous system during stress. "Therefore, one potential picture emerging from the current data is that men, particularly high hostile men, are demonstrating chronically elevated [nervous system] activity, resulting in higher homocysteine concentrations," she writes.

Asked to comment on the finding, Jonathan Abrams, MD, tells WebMD the study is "an interesting tidbit and probably deserves further evaluation." Abrams, a nationally known expert in preventive cardiology, will soon be publishing his own paper on homocysteine. He is a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

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