Low Serotonin Levels May Increase Heart Disease Risk 
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 Low Serotonin Levels May Increase Heart Disease Risk

Low Serotonin Levels May Increase Heart Disease Risk
March 6, 2000
Medical Tribune

Serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood and personality, may also
affect a person's risk of heart disease.

"We've long known that stress contributes to heart disease and that people
with low serotonin have more heart disease," said lead researcher Edward
Suarez, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavi{*filter*}
science at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "Now we have shown
that cellular mechanisms suspected of contributing to atherosclerosis are
associated with a neurochemical - serotonin - which is associated with
depression and hostility."

Serotonin is the chemical targeted by antidepressant {*filter*} like Prozac
(fluoxetine, Lilly). By raising levels of serotonin in the brain, the
medication can improve a person's mood.

Suarez and colleagues studied 56 healthy men and women between the ages of
18
and 49, asking them to recall past events that had made them sad or angry.
This was done to induce emotional stress. Before and after each of these
stress tests, the researchers analyzed the subjects' {*filter*} for the presence
of certain proteins called cytokines, which are produced in response to a
variety of stressors.

Before the recollections, none of the subjects showed an increase in
cytokine
levels. However, men with low serotonin levels produced higher levels of two
specific cytokines after the recollections. These cytokines, interleukin 1
alpha (IL-1a) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-a), are known to
contribute to atherosclerosis, a build-up of fatty plaques in the arteries
that can lead to a heart attack.

In comparison, subjects with normal or high serotonin levels did not exhibit
increases in cytokine levels after the recollections.

The study is being presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American
Psychosomatic Society in Savannah, Ga.

"Our study showed that in people with low levels of serotonin, stress
activates the same immune response as do other environmental factors like
high cholesterol and smoking," Suarez said. He added that because low
serotonin levels are associated with depression and hostility, these
findings
may explain why depressed and hostile people die more often from heart
disease and other conditions that induce a strong response from the immune
system.

Suarez noted that women with low serotonin only showed a rise in IL-1a, but
not TNF-a. He offered estrogen's anti-inflammatory properties as a possible
explanation for why TNF-a levels were not elevated in these women.

"Our results suggest that, in people with low serotonin, stress prompts the
immune system to behave like there is an injury in need of repair," Suarez
said. "Once the immune system is engaged, it activates white {*filter*} cells at
the perceived site of injury to begin their repair."

Experts generally feel that heart disease is an inflammatory response by the
immune system against the heart. When white {*filter*} cells are activated, they
swarm to the site of injury. In the case of heart disease, the white {*filter*}
cells build up on the artery walls to both repair microscopic tears and to
consume low-density lipoprotein, or the "bad" cholesterol. The consumption
of
the cholesterol leads to the hardening of the cells, resulting in the
formation of plaques. The researchers suggested that stress initiates this
process by releasing hormones that activate the immune system.

"Stress appears to be an environmental trigger that sets into motion an
immune response among people who have a biological underpinning toward
negative moods," Suarez explained. "In other words, stress mimics the
response of an actual physical injury."

Reducing stress and lowering cholesterol levels have long been recommended
for prevention and treatment of heart disease. According to the researchers,
future studies may reveal that increasing serotonin levels may also be a way
to treat heart disease.

"The study does show that how we feel and our health status are associated,
even at the molecular and cellular levels," Suarez concluded. "It
reemphasizes that this mind-body connection is truly there."

Copyright 2000 Medical PressCorps News Service



Sat, 24 Aug 2002 03:00:00 GMT
 
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