Longstanding anger and hostility compromise lung function, and contribute to a more rapid decline in lung capacity, a study suggests.
A US team followed 670 male military veterans and found those with high levels of hostility had poorer lung function than their happier peers.
The team suggests the findings could drive new methods of targeting lung disease screening and prevention strategies.
Researchers looked at men aged between 45 and 86 from the US Veterans Administration Normative Ageing Study.
The volunteers had had their levels of hostility measured in 1986 through a series of questionnaires, which indicated their longer-term emotional state.
The average hostility score was around 18.5, but ranged from 7 to 37, the team said.
Lung function was also measured and then analysed at routine intervals over an average period of just over eight years.
Each point increase in hostility score was associated with a loss of FEV1 of 9ml a year, compared with men whose hostility levels were lower.
Dr Rosalind Wright of Harvard Medical School, who led the research, said: “The men with higher levels of hostility had lower lung function at this baseline point in 1986, but they also showed a more rapid rate of decline over time.”
Previous studies have suggested that a rapid decline in lung function was linked to increased susceptibility to debilitating lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cardiovascular disease, and increased mortality.
But Wright acknowledged that, because the group was comprised of all ex-military males, mainly white and of a lower socio-economic status, the findings could not be applied to the wider population.
The team believes that anger and hostility could be affecting neurological and hormonal processes, which in turn could cause chronic inflammation in some of the body’s systems, such as the lungs.
However, Dr Wright said the study showed an association between anger and lung disease, rather than a cause and effect relationship.
She said: “Healthcare providers should be aware that your emotional state can play a role in lung health over time.
“It could change the way we think about screening for risk factors and could inform different types of interventions - such as cognitive behavioural therapy.”
Dr John Moore-Gillon, a lung specialist and spokesman for the British Thoracic Society, said: “This is a fascinating piece of work.
There does seem to be a link between long-term anger and hostility and more rapid decline in the functioning of the lungs.
“Whether the decline is actually caused by the emotion or whether they are both caused by a third, unrecognised factor is not yet certain.”
An accompanying editorial in Thorax acknowledges that the physiological components of anger and stress overlap, and stress is well known to affect the immune system.
“Indeed it is hard to find a disease for which emotion or stress plays absolutely no part in symptom severity, frequency, or intensity of flare-ups,” writes Dr Paul Lehrer of the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey, USA.
Chronic anger may permanently alter the normal body responses to and physical and psychological stressors, he suggests, and add to “wear and tear.”
But he cautions that associations do not necessarily equate to cause.
“Personality, as well as physiology, can change over time, and deterioration in health and physical function can lead to negative emotion as well as vice versa, including for respiratory diseases.”
“Your emotional state can play a role in lung health over time”
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