Image: Bernard B. Lanter/Binghamton University

For a long time now, we’ve had evidence that supports the notion that stress causes heart attacks. The “how” has eluded us, until a research team found the possible culprit – bacteria.

We have reason to believe a variety of bacteria love to infect plaque. Plaque is basically the evil love-child that results when cholesterol, calcium, and fat combine with each other. So, the moral of the story is, we like bacteria that infects and breaks up plaque. Researchers from Binghamton University wanted to study these bacteria and see if they were affected by stress.

The first part of the experiment involved identifying plaque-loving bacteria. The Binghamton team found 10 species of bacteria that love plaque a lot more than we do. One of the most fascinating was the bacteria pseudomonas aeruginosa. It likes to grow in clumps creating a biofilm, the advantage of which means P. aeruginosa is able to block plaque from entering the bloodstream.

This is pseudomonas aeruginosa

Second, the research team created artificial arteries, grew P. aeruginosa biofilms, then flooded it with the stress hormone noradrenaline, sat back and watched while chemistry did its thing.

Long story shot, the stress hormone causes the body to release iron. The iron breaks down the bonds that hold the biofilms together. Without the biofilms, the plaque is able to enter the bloodstream, it eventually hardens, clogs arteries, and the rest is heart attack history.

Though the results are interesting, there is still a lot of research to do. We need to make sure this process is actually happening in people. The authors of the paper are also criticized for using much higher amounts of noradrenaline than would actually be released in the human body. Perhaps this is a gateway to a better understanding of how stress and heart attacks are related, or maybe it’s a dead end. Only research will tell.


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