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Aging, Depression and Heart Disease

There may be a link between depression and heart disease according to a study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University. The findings suggest that chronic depression may play a key role in starting the cascade that can lead to the buildup of plaques clogging coronary arteries.

Researchers have apparently connected an increase in two immune system proteins essential for inflammation to a latent viral infection and proposed a chain of events that might accelerate cardiovascular disease.

Ronald Glaser, a professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics at Ohio State University, said, “To me, this suggests a new way of thinking about how these diseases develop. We carry around these latent herpes viruses in our bodies virtually all our lives and periodically they can hurt us, inducing biological events that could lead to an increased risk of atherosclerosis.”

Glaser, head of Ohio State’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, has focused for years on Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), one of eight different herpes viruses that can remain dormant in the body for a lifetime.

“Perhaps more than 90 percent of the people in North America have been infected by EBV by the time they’re adults,” Glaser said. “Virtually everybody in the country is carrying this virus.”

Increased stress and depression, coupled with aging, can also trigger the latent virus to reactivate and begin reproducing inside cells.

“People need to remember how important depression is, and that when they’re depressed, it can reactivate these viruses, starting the cascade that leads to inflammation, perhaps increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to Glaser.

“So treating depression is very important,” he said.

The next time a doctor tries to tell you “It’s all in your head,” be sure to ask the physician what impact that could have on your heart.

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