A New Way Hotheads May Be Hurting Their Hearts
WebMD News Archive
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
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.
Abrams notes that this is a very small study that looked at patients with
homocysteine levels in the normal ranges. He says, "We don't consider
homocysteine elevated until it is in the range of 10 or 11 to 15. These levels
are all well below that." In Stoney's study, the average homocysteine level
for women was just under six and for men, who have higher homocysteine levels
than women, it was about seven.
Stoney says it is too early to suggest any practical purpose of the
findings. Abrams says that it is likely that homocysteine is a risk factor for
heart disease, but "we have no data that show that lowering homocysteine or
modifying it will do anything."