Anger is often talked about like a disease; it fulminates or festers or becomes inflamed. Now it appears that these terms may have some basis in scientific fact. According to a new study, angry people have elevated blood levels of a protein related to inflammation, which may partly explain their higher risk for cardiovascular disease.
As the role of inflammation in heart disease has emerged, scientists have found that high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) are a better predictor than high cholesterol for cardiovascular disease. High CRP levels are also associated with depression. In addition, studies have shown that angry (formerly known as "type A") or depressive personalities run a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
Psychiatry professor Edward Suarez of Duke University brought all these threads together by studying anger, hostility, depression, and CRP levels in 127 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 65. He gave each subject three tests: a depression inventory, an anger scale (measuring the emotional aspects of anger), and a hostility scale (measuring attitudes such as ill will and perception of resentment). CRP levels were measured after a night of fasting.People with the full brew of negative emotions had CRP levels two to three times as high as the calmer, more optimistic subjects, reports Suarez in this month's issue of Psychosomatic Medicine. The study adds to an emerging picture of how stress-induced changes in the nervous system may trigger activity in the immune system. Inflammatory responses roughen the linings of arteries, making them more prone to accumulating plaque.Psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser of Ohio State University in Columbus, who does research on emotions and illness, says this study provides "the first evidence linking CRP with anger and hostility." But Marco Pahor, a gerontologist at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, says the study does not prove cause and effect, and he notes that further work will be needed to determine whether psychological factors contribute to inflammation-related disease.
Research on emotions and heart disease