According to research, persisting stress increases the risk for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease by evoking negative emotions that, in turn, raise the levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body.
"We hypothesised that brain activity linked to negative emotions - specifically efforts to regulate negative emotions - would relate to physical signs of risk for heart disease," explained Peter Gianaros, an associate professor at University of Pittsburgh.
Stroke and heart attacks are the end products of progressive damage to blood vessels supplying the heart and brain, a process called atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis progresses when there are high levels of chemicals in the body called pro-inflammatory cytokines.
To conduct the study, researchers recruited 157 healthy adult volunteers who were asked to regulate their emotional reactions to unpleasant pictures.
They found that individuals who show greater brain activation when regulating their negative emotions also exhibit elevated blood levels of interleukin-6, one of the body's pro-inflammatory cytokines.
These new findings agree with the popular belief that emotions are connected to heart health, which may lead to protect against heart disease, said the study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.