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Researchers have recently found a link between the amygdala and heart disease, otherwise known as cardiovascular disease (CVD). The amygdalae, or the “fear center” in the brain, are a set of small lobes in the rear of the brain that are linked to various forms of stress. Subjects of the study with over-active sets of amygdala were more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or other serious heart event within the next 4 to 5 years.

Stress and heart disease

Heart disease and the multitude of conditions that compose it make it one of the most lethal ailments worldwide. It is currently responsible for over 17.3 million deaths each year. 1 Finding a concrete link between the brain and the heart may help researchers develop preventative treatments for those in danger of heart disease. Though scientists and doctors have known for years that stress affects the cardiovascular system, “stress” as a subjective feeling is difficult to quantify. Lead researcher Dr. Ahmed Tawakol explains:

“Our results provide a unique insight into how stress may lead to cardiovascular disease. This raises the possibility that reducing stress could produce benefits that extend beyond an improved sense of psychological wellbeing.”

Subjects with active amygdalae show an increase in inflammation in their arteries and an activation of bone marrow. The possible biological mechanism, the researchers suggest, involves the amygdalae signalling the bone marrow to produce excess white blood cells, which causes arteries to develop plaques and become inflamed—which can lead to heart attack, stroke, and CVD.

Post traumatic stress disorder

The researchers also included a small 13 patient sub-study where the participants had a history of PTSD. They underwent a psychological exam, a PET scan, and a measurement of C-reactive protein. Those who reported feeling high levels of stress also showed the highest levels of amygdala activity and inflammation in their arteries. These findings bolster the link between brain and heart in relation to stress induced cardiac events.

The research is enlightening and makes way for the future studies. The research was on a relatively small scale, and other possible contributions of the amygdalae on heart disease are possible. More research is needed for confirmation and to begin developing treatments.


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Read Dr. Ahmad Tawakol’s work here:

Read Science Daily’s thorough summary of the research here: