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April 30 (HealthSCOUT)--Hostile thoughts may indeed be bad for your heart, a new study says. People with high levels of hostility and anger also had high levels of homocysteine, an amino acid associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease, say the researchers."The relationship between homocysteine and hostility was the same for men as for women," says lead author Catherine Stoney, an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University. "But we don't know how that translates [into actual disease risk]."Stoney and her colleagues studied 33 women and 31 men, all in good health, whose ages averaged 49. The researchers measured weight and height and analyzed blood samples for homocysteine. They used standard psychological-assessment questionnaires to measure hostility and anger levels.Men in the study showed a significant correlation between unexpressed anger and homocysteine levels, Stoney says. However, the results showed statistically significant associations between hostility and homocysteine levels for all participants, she says."We're not talking about aggression," says Stoney. Hostility, she says, "is a trait characteristic of how one views the world. If one views the world as a dangerous place to be, one needs to be on one's guard all the time. There's a very strong cynical attribute to this kind of hostility."Charles Pumilia, a New Jersey psychologist, explains hostility another way: "What becomes one's primary emotional response to stress is the overwhelming feeling of life being out of the point [of feeling] under attack and helpless."The fact that homocysteine seems to rise along with hostility does not necessarily mean that disease risk rises as well, Stoney says. However, experts believe that elevated homocysteine levels damage the cells along the artery walls, contributing to the development of plaque.The study did not measure coronary disease, she says. The elevated homocysteine levels found in some participants were definite but short-term, and it wasn't possible to assess the actual coronary-disease risk of individual participants, she says.Still, Stoney says, "The most important question is, does this have any relevance to the disease process? Certainly, we think that it could. Homocysteine is really important in terms of risk for [coronary] disease."The physiological effects of emotions have been studied for a long time, Stoney says. "We know a lot about what's happening to the heart during long-term and short-term stress." Newer and more sophisticated analysis techniques make possible an understanding of the effects of stress in greater detail than ever before--allowing, for instance, the measuring of blood chemical levels and blood flow to the brain, she says."The mind-body connection is not restricted to heart disease and is often an important factor in many disease processes, autoimmune and otherwise," Pumilia says. Pumilia, whose practice includes many patients suffering from heart disease, says psychotherapy is often effective in uncovering counterproductive ways of dealing with stress and helping people find behaviors to replace them.For instance, learning to discharge tension through words and learning not to repeat the stressful emotional patterns of the past can help such patients, he says. Lacking an adequate release for stress, Pumilia says, "the feeling of helplessness becomes somewhat traumatic both physically and emotionally."
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