Hostile teenagers are likely to grow up to be adults who have high cholesterol, according to a study that finds new links between anger and heart trouble.
For years, many experts assumed that hard-driving, impatient people with classic Type A personalities were at high risk of heart attacks. But many have grown skeptical of this theory, and some now believe that the truly lethal personality trait is hostility and anger."People with high hostility at age 19 tend to have high cholesterol levels at 40," Dr. Redford B. Williams of Duke University said Wednesday.
Williams' study was among several presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association to suggest that hostile people are more prone to heart trouble - both because of the effects of adrenaline and other hormones on their bodies and their tendency to have unhealthy living habits.
One report from Yale University researchers found that people who react to situations with strong emotions, particularly anger, are especially likely to die of cardiac arrest.
Williams' study, conducted with Dr. Ilene C. Siegler, was based on a followup 20 years later of 830 people who took personality tests while students at the University of North Carolina in the mid-1960s.
They found that those who scored high on a hostility scale in college tended to have high levels of total cholesterol in their blood but relatively low amounts of HDL, the protective so-called "good cholesterol."
"One explanation for this is the effect of hormones that mobilize lipids from fat stores," said Williams.
When people get angry, their bodies pump out stress hormones, such as adrenaline, which trigger the body to release fat into the bloodstream to provide energy.
"Stress hormones give you a Hershey bar when they fire off," Williams said.
Hostility may work to raise cholesterol and harm the heart in other ways, too. Other Duke research found that alumni who were especially rebellious or hostile were more likely to smoke cigarettes. This suggests that hostile people are less health conscious.
In Williams' view, hostile people tend to be suspicious as well as easily angered.
"They are the people who, when they stand in the 12-item line at the supermarket, always count how many items other people have," said Williams.
In another study at Duke, researchers set up an experiment to see how people would respond when bothered by a technician while trying to solve word puzzles. Hostile people tended to react by getting angry at the harrassment, and their blood pressures rose.
"I think the effects of hostility are preventable or even reversible" through stress management techniques, he said.
The Yale study, by Dr. Lynda Powell, was based on eight to 10 years of followup of 929 men who had survived heart attacks.
The researchers interviewed the men and scored how emotionally aroused they became by observing such things as tense facial expressions, rapid speech, quick gestures, rapid blinking, an aggressive attitude and other clues from their posture and words.