Terror fears raise women's level of protein linked to heart disease

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Israeli women with chronic fears of terror attacks have higher levels of a blood protein that measures low-grade inflammation and may lead to heart disease, according to a new study.

Samuel Melamed, Ph.D., of the National Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health in Israel and colleagues found no significant link between fear and inflammation among men. Their research appears in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

“This study demonstrates for the first time, in a sample of apparently healthy workers, that the psychological reaction of chronic fear of terror has a negative impact on health in women,” Melamed says.

The study compared fears of terror attacks with levels of the C-reactive protein, a strong predictor of atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases, in 1,153 healthy men and women.

Fear of terror nearly doubled the risk of high C-reactive protein levels among the women, the researchers conclude.

Melamed and colleagues measured the participants’ fear of terror using a questionnaire that asked how worried participants were about their personal safety, whether they were tenser in crowded places and if they were afraid of a terror strike hurting them or their family members.

The researchers also collected information on the participants’ general mental and physical health, including a psychological assessment of their anxiety and depression levels.

Women in the study were significantly more fearful than men of terror attacks; 26 percent of the women reported “quite a bit” or “extreme” amounts of fear in relation to the three terror questions, compared with 11 percent of the men. Both men and women in this high-fear group, however, said they had experienced these feelings for a year or more.

“Fear of terror was common to people throughout the country, and it was not limited to those living in cities or towns directly affected by terror,” Melamed says.

“Other studies of psychological reactions to terrorist attacks in the United States and Israel have reported similar findings,” he adds.

The researchers suggest terror fears may provoke even higher levels of inflammation among the general population, since most of the participants in their study were in relatively good health and may have been more resilient to stress.

The study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation and the Preventive Activities Program of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare of the Government of Israel.

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