Who would ever suspect a common link between panic attacks and heart disease risk – and even risk of death??? Well it turns out, research has now shown what I long suspected and talked about in my book, The Body Shape Solution to Weight Loss and Wellness. Women who have panic attacks appear to be at much higher risk for cardiovascular disease and even death.
Researchers followed 3,300 women ages 51 to 83 (postmenopausal women) and found that a history of full-blown panic attacks in the past six months was associated with a more than fourfold risk for coronary heart disease. They also found a 75 percent increase in mortality from all causes, compared with women who did not have panic attacks. The study was just published in the October 2007 issue of The Archives of General Psychiatry. Younger women were not part of the research study, but there is every reason to suspect that younger women with panic attacks and too much belly fat are at greater risk too. But with menopause, women lose their protective estrogen and pear-shape…making apple-shapes of most of us!!
A four times greater risk of coronary disease is exactly the same risk an apple-shaped woman faces as well. It turns out that the common thread linking panic attacks, heart disease risk and apple-shape is TOO MUCH DANGEROUS ABDOMINAL (belly) FAT. As you might suspect, the researchers found that women who had panic attacks were also more likely to smoke and to have high blood pressure, diabetes and symptoms of depression as well as a history of cardiovascular problems – all signs of too much belly fat.
The connection among all these factors is cortisol. And apple-shaped women are chock full of it. People with apple-shapes are likely to have more cortisol in their bodies at any given time. Under stress, they become more distressed and their cortisol levels soar higher than those of pear-shaped women under similar stress. More cortisol equals more abdominal fat. Adding inches around your waist could lead to further cortisol and, which would mean still more added weight in the apple zone, and so on.
In theory, if you break one link in the chain, you can break the cycle. The easiest link to attack, because it is the one you have the most control over, is abdominal fat. Losing inches will not only help you avoid heart disease and diabetes, it may also help you fight depression and reduce your stress reactions. If visceral adipose tissue has feedback systems that affect cortisol production or secretion—and it very well may—then reducing the amount of fat around your middle may make you feel better mentally as well as physically.
The best way to lose inches is to follow the program for apple-shaped women that I describe in my book. In a nutshell, walking 30 minutes a day and a diet of healthy fats and high fiber is just what you need to start shedding inches and shrinking your risk of heart disease and death – and may just be what you need to help both your body and your brain to stay healthy.
To learn what body shape you have, download forms for your shape to help track your health, and to learn more how to reduce inches – visit me at www.drsavard.com
As always, I welcome your questions and comments.