The Interconnected Mind and Heart

January 25, 2021
Leah Kuntz

The American Heart Association released a statement recognizing the importance of the relationship between mental well-being and cardiovascular disease.

According to a recently published statement1 by the American Heart Association (AHA), mental health can positively or negatively impact an individual’s health and risk factors for heart disease and stroke. The statement, titled, “Psychological Health, Well-Being, and the Mind-Heart-Body Connection,” was published in the Association’s flagship journal Circulation.

“A person’s mind, heart, and body are all interconnected and interdependent in what can be termed ‘the mind-heart-body-connection.’ Research has clearly demonstrated that negative psychological factors, personality traits and mental health disorders can negatively impact cardiovascular health. On the other hand, studies have found positive psychological attributes are associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality,” Glenn N. Levine, MD, FAHA, master clinician and professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, chief of the cardiology section at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, said to the press.2

The AHA’s statement evaluated the ways in which heart health and mental health are interconnected, including details on how to improve the mental health status of people at risk for heart disease, and those who already have heart disease.

Negative mental health conditions—such as depression, chronic stress, anxiety, anger, pessimism, and dissatisfaction—are associated with potentially harmful biological responses, including: irregularities of heart rate and rhythm, increased digestive complaints, increased blood pressure, inflammation, and reduced blood flow to the heart. Health behaviors that increase risk for heart disease and stroke, like smoking, lower levels of physical activity, unhealthy diet, obesity, and others, are also associated with negative mental health.

On the other hand, people with positive mental health were more associated with healthy heart conditions, like lower blood pressure, better glucose control, less inflammation, and lower cholesterol. Additionally, people with better mental health tend to have more positive social relationships, support, and connections.

The statement suggests mental health screening for people with or at risk for heart disease. Programs like cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, collaborative care management, stress reduction therapy, and meditation could all help reduce said risk. Cardiovascular health could be improved by increasing positivity, happiness, and satisfaction.

“The data is consistent, suggesting that positive psychological traits play a part in better cardiovascular health,” Levine said further.2

The cumulative effect of daily stressors and exposure to traumatic events can also increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, research concluded. Patients’ self-report of general stress as well as work-related stress have been associated with an up to 40% increased risk of developing or dying from heart disease.

“Wellness is more than simply the absence of disease. It is an active process directed toward a healthier, happier and more fulfilling life, and we must strive to reduce negative aspects of psychological health and promote an overall positive and healthy state of being,” Levine said. “In patients with or at risk for heart disease, health care professionals need to address the mental wellness of the patient in tandem with the physical conditions affecting the body, such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, chest pain, etc.”2

To learn more, look for the Psychocardiology Special Report in the February 2021 issue of Psychiatric TimesTM.

References

1. Levine GN, Cohen BE, Commodore-Mensah Y, et al. Psychological health, well-being, and the mind-heart-body connection: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. January 25, 2021. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000947

2. American Heart Association. Mental health is important to overall health, and heart disease prevention and treatment. Newsroom. News release. January 25, 2021. https://newsroom.heart.org/news/mental-health-is-important-to-overall-health-and-heart-disease-prevention-and-treatment