Check out this excerpt of a medical research interview on Anger
Anger kills, Radio National, the health report
Monday 5 January 1998
Summary: Research suggests that how we react to other people and the minor and major irritants of daily living can influence our risk of dying from cancer and heart disease.
Norman Swan: Hello, and welcome to the program. Today, it's about how your personality and psyche can kill you. It's for everyone who checks out the trolleys ahead in the express lane in the supermarket, and who gets furious when someone has over 8 or 12 items.
Today's program is for you if, when anything goes wrong, you instantly assume that someone else has stuffed up, and you go hunting for blood.
It's also for the poor unfortunates who have to live with such people - like my wife, for example.
It's also about how social deprivation in infancy may permanently alter how the brain works and thereby change the way you respond to the world.
All this is part of the research field of Dr Redford Williams, who's Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.
Dr Williams suggests that how we react to other people, and the minor and major irritants of daily living, can influence our risk of dying from cancer and heart disease. And the history of his involvement goes back to the driving, obsessive, workaholic personality called the Type A.
Redford Williams: What's beginning to emerge now is that these psycho-social risk factors like hostility, chronic anger, like depression, and like having fairly low levels of social support, or being socially isolated, travel together in the same individuals. A person who is high on a hostility scale will be more likely to be high on a depression scale and low on social support. Each of those two, depression and social isolation, have been found to predict high death rates, not only in healthy populations, but also in patient groups who already have coronary disease. And they tend to cluster in the same individuals, and especially do they tend to cluster in lower socio-economic groups: people who are poor tend to have these characteristics more than higher groups. And indeed the work of Dr Michael Marmot at University College, London, has been pioneering in showing that this gradient of socio-economic status extends across the whole range. As you go from the very highest down to the next, to the next, to the very lowest, at every step down, there's a step up in mortality.
And some of this increase in mortality, we now believe is due not only to poor health habits, which certainly are the case in lower socio-economic groups, but also to the presence of these psycho-social risk factors, because we have published studies here from Duke as have others, showing that as you go down the socio-economic ladder, hostility goes up, depression goes up, and most likely, social support goes down, though that has not been as completely studied yet.
Norman Swan: And you were saying that this has all caused mortality, in other words, all causes of death, it's cancer, it's heart disease, everything.
Redford Williams: Yes, everything. Up to and including minor respiratory infections. Everything is increased as a function of these.
Norman Swan: Why?
Redford Williams: Why. Well I can give you a number of leads we have. First of all, we find that people with these psycho-social risk factors - and it doesn't really seem to matter which one, or whether the whole cluster you're talking about - have poor health habits. More smoking, more alcohol use, even if you would believe it, more eating. In one study, those with hostility scores in the highest 25% consume on average 600 more calories a day than those in the lowest 25%.
Norman Swan: That's a substantial amount.
Redford Williams: Yes, when you consider that the average American - and I imagine the average Aussie - consumes about 2300, 2400 calories a day at most, 600 calories is a pretty hefty addition. Besides that, there are biological characteristics that people with hostility and depression have. An over-active sympathetic nervous system, the fight flight part of your nervous system, the adrenalin secreting part, the cortisol stress hormone secreting part, is more responsive in people with both depression and high hostility. The calming part of the autonomic nervous system, the para-sympathetic, which actually blocks the effects of adrenalin, let's say to make the heart beat harder and faster, is weaker in depressed and hostile individuals.
Norman Swan: So it's really double-whammy then.
Redford Williams: It's the double-whammy. You've got more of the bad part, and less of the protective good part.