" 'The current therapy of depression doesn't seem to be doing that much for depression, and certainly hasn't broken the link between depression and cardiovascular disease,' he said in an interview from Ann Arbor."
"In fact, he said there's some evidence that certain antidepressants increase cardiovascular death when they're taken with beta-blockers."
" 'So we have sort of a real challenge that the current treatment of depression doesn't seem to be that effective'."
Happy people have lower likelihood of heart attack, Nova Scotia study indicates
By Anne-Marie Tobin (CP) – 17 hours ago
TORONTO We hear the advice "Don't worry, be happy," and "Smile, smile, smile" in upbeat song lyrics. And when it comes to the health benefits of a sunny disposition, they might be on to something.
A 10-year study that tracked more than 1,700 adults in Nova Scotia suggests people who are usually happy, enthusiastic and content are less likely to develop heart disease.
The study, published Thursday in the European Heart Journal, is believed to be the first to show an independent relationship between clinically assessed emotions and coronary heart disease.
"Being happy means you have less likelihood of having a heart attack 10 years later," said psychologist Karina Davidson, director of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.
"What we don't know yet is if you're not a happy person and you were to get an intervention to help you increase your happiness, would that offset your risk?"
The team looked at the association between positive affect – defined as the experience of pleasurable emotions such as joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm and contentment – and cardiovascular events in 1,739 adults in the 1995 Nova Scotia Health Survey. Trained nurses interviewed the 862 men and 877 women.
"We taped as they talked about their daily lives, what stresses them, how they handle those stressors, and we then coded whether they had a lot of positive affect," said Davidson, who hails from Vancouver and began the research in 1995 while she was at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
"We had to wait quite a few years as these people had heart attacks, and then we looked to see whether being happy predicted fewer heart attacks, and indeed it did."
The researchers found that over the decade, participants with no positive affect were at 22 per cent higher risk of heart attack or angina than those with a little positive affect, who were themselves at 22 per cent higher risk than those with moderate positive affect.
But Davidson notes that this is an observational study, and rigorous clinical trials are needed to support the findings.
A study would need to follow people with low levels of happiness, and randomize them so that some receive usual care while others would receive intervention from a trained professional to help identify ways to increase joy and excitement in their daily lives.
"The key to adding pleasurable or enjoyable activities to one's life is that they also be heart healthy," Davidson noted.
"So if you can learn to enjoy going for a walk after dinner, or going to the gym to do a regular routine, or you always enjoyed hiking in your younger years and so you go on some hikes on a regular basis, that will surely improve your heart health."
One problem, she observed, is that some people enjoy smoking, eating ice cream or other activities that aren't considered heart healthy – so they'd need to be steered away from those.
Dr. Bertram Pitt, a cardiologist at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, co-wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal and notes that the relationship between cardiovascular disease and depression poses intriguing research questions.
"The current therapy of depression doesn't seem to be doing that much for depression, and certainly hasn't broken the link between depression and cardiovascular disease," he said in an interview from Ann Arbor.
In fact, he said there's some evidence that certain antidepressants increase cardiovascular death when they're taken with beta-blockers.
"So we have sort of a real challenge that the current treatment of depression doesn't seem to be that effective."
The study by Davidson is important because it points out there may be some new approaches, he said.
"I think if you can be happy and do things that make you happy, you certainly can't lose, and you may have a great advantage in reducing your cardiovascular risk in the future."
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