Research has shown repeatedly that when we are unhappy in our relationships or marriages, both men and women are at higher risk for stress, depression and anxiety issues. What is less talked about is that relationship stress and being in an unhealthy relationship also increases the risk for cardiovascular issues as well.
In fact, a study conducted in 2007 by Dr. Robert De Vogli and colleagues indicates that even after taking into account all other risk factors for heart disease (such as age, sex, marital status, high blood pressure, family history and diabetes), being in an unhealthy relationship increases your chance of a coronary event by 25%. The Journal of Americal Medical Association (JAMA) published a study in 2000 showing that for women who have had a heart attack, the chance for a second one or the need for a bypass tripled if they were in an unhealthy relationship. This did not hold true of for all types of stress. Stress due to their job, children or other friendships did not increase their chance for a second heart attack or a further procedure.
In another similar study, Dr. Timothy Smith from the University of Utah found that arguments that contained hostility and that lacked warmth and affection were just as predictive of heart disease as smoking or having high cholesterol.
This is especially concerning as South Asians are at much higher risk for coronary artery disease than other ethnic groups. According to the South Asian Heart Center, coronary artery disease affects South Asians four times more often than the general popularion. This is true regardless of dietary habits, smoking and weight; even vegetarian, non-smoking, average weight people are still at higher risk than others for heart disease!
For Indian men, 50% of all heart attacks occur prior to the age of 50, 25% before the age of 40. And when South Asians have a heart attack, more often than not, it will be fatal.
So if South Asians eat the right foods and live a healthy lifestyle, why are they at such a high risk? Genetics certainly plays a part but genetics is never 100% of the story. So how do we explain the rest of it?
There seems to be an undeniable significance of unhealthy relationships on cardiac health. With the stigma around emotional issues and mental health, South Asians don’t think about or address the very issues that might be increasing their risk for cardiac disease. If South Asians take unhealthy relationships as seriously as they take traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes, being overweight, it is very likely we will notice an improvement in South Asians’ physical health.
Let’s take the challenge and push each other to talk about these topics that are so taboo in the South Asian culture but seem to have serious consequences for physical health!
In the next article, we will review the mechanisms of how exactly an unhealthy relationship affects physical health.
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