New research shows that healthy people with high
levels of anger, hostility or depression also
have high blood levels of C-reactive protein, an
indicator of inflammation of the arteries. More
and more, heart experts are recognizing that
this arterial inflammation is key to the
cardiovascular disease process, and this latest
study suggests reductions in anger might help
reduce heart woes.
"Anger seems to predict an
increased risk of heart disease in initially
healthy individuals, and several studies have
shown that," said study author Edward Suarez, an
associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral
sciences at Duke University. However, until now,
no one had studied links between anger and
inflammation. "This is the first step to link
the behavior to this [heart disease] mechanism -
one that's garnering a lot of attention" among
cardiologists, he said.
The findings appear in the September issue of
In the study, Suarez tested C-reactive
protein (CRP) blood levels in 121 healthy,
nonsmoking men and women between 18 and 65 years
of age. On the same day, he also measured each
participant's level of anger, hostility and
depression using a series of standard
psychological tests. He found that - in the
absence of heart disease risk factors such as
smoking, obesity and high blood pressure - high
levels of these negative emotional states
"significantly predicted the blood level of
CRP." Those who were prone to anger, hostility
or depression had two to three times higher CRP
levels than their more mellow peers, the
It's not yet clear why this association
exists, but studies are under way to shed light
on pathways by which anger or depression might
encourage inflammation. In one study, Suarez
plans to track patients for two years, to see if
hotheaded individuals are any more likely to
develop elevated CRP levels over time.
Other studies are planned that focus on
anger's effect on stress hormones such as
noradrenaline and norepinephrine. The latter
hormone, in particular, works on a second
chemical, nuclear factor-kappa B, "as a kind of
'off/on' switch" for inflammation," Suarez said.
"When that switch is turned on, it begins a
cascade of events that leads to the promotion or
release of inflammatory proteins."
In the meantime, people concerned about their
heart health might want to just "cool it" when
tempers flare. "It's very important to pay
attention to how we can change these behaviors,"
Suarez said. "I know it isn't easy, though."
"It's difficult to change patterns of
that are intrinsic to who we are as individuals,
so it's not going to be an overnight thing," he
added. "But we can start by saying, 'What gets
me angry?' and 'If I get angry, do I start to
feel depressed and withdrawn from my social
network?' " Also, take a stress break. "If a
walk around the park can calm you down, do it,"