This Newsweek article, entitled "The Good Heart", adds to the notion that psychology is an important aspect of health.
The article reports that at a meeting of the American Heart Association last year, Debra Moser, a professor of nursing at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, presented the results of a study heart-attack patients with high anxiety levels were more likely to suffer complications than those low anxiety levels.
The article also cites Dr. Michael Frenneaux, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Birmingham in England, as saying that depression doubles an otherwise healthy person's heart-attack risk, while for people who have suffered a heart attack in the past, depression quadruples or quintuples the risk of a second one.
Other factors in heart attack risk mentioned in the article include levels of hostility, depression, stress and childhood trauma. These seem to affect the body negatively through the release of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline), which lead to high blood pressure and blood-glucose levels. Stress hormones also cause inflammation, which is believed to promote heart disease through several stages, from plaque formation to heart attack.
The opposite of these negative emotions appears to help prevent or ameliorate heart disease. Psychologist Karen Matthews at the University of Pittsburgh found that optimism helped reduce thickening in the carotid arteries of postmenopausal women while Dr. Michael Miller of the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that laughter relaxed people's peripheral arteries and increased blood flow.
The findings reported in the article are interesting. They show that one way to a healthy heart is through the head.
However, the article probably does not cover the full range of mechanisms through which psychology affects heart health. For example, it does not mention the effect of stress on telomere shortening, an important ageing mechanism and therefore, surely an important factor in the development of heart disease.