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Biomed Pharmacother. 2002;56 Suppl 2:257s-265s.

Brain-heart connection and the risk of heart attack.


Autonomic functions, such as increased sympathetic and parasympathetic activity and the brain's suprachiasmatic nucleus, higher nervous centres, depression, hostility and aggression appear to be important determinants of heart rate variability (HRV), which is, itself, an important risk factor of myocardial infarction, arrhythmias, sudden death, heart failure and atherosclerosis. The circadian rhythm of these complications with an increased occurrence in the second quarter of the day may be due to autonomic dysfunction as well as to the presence of excitatory brain and heart tissues. While increased sympathetic activity is associated with increased levels of cortisol, catecholamines, serotonin, renin, aldosterone, angiotensin and free radicals; increased parasympathetic activity may be associated with greater levels of acetylecholine, dopamine, nitric oxide, endorphins, coenzyme Q10, antioxidants and other protective factors. Recent studies indicate that hyperglycemia, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, ambient pollution, insulin resistance and mental stress can increase the risk of low HRV. These risk factors, which are known to favour cardiovascular disease, seem to act by decreasing HRV. There is evidence that regular fasting may modulate HRV and other risk factors of heart attack. While exercise is known to decrease HRV, exercise training may not have any adverse effect on HRV. In a recent study among 202 patients with acute myocardial infarction (AMI), the incidence of onset of chest pain was highest in the second quarter of the day (41.0%), mainly between 4.0-8.0 AM, followed by the fourth quarter, usually after large meals (28.2%). Emotion was the second most common trigger (43.5%). Cold weather was a predisposing factor in 29.2% and hot temperature (> 40 degrees celsius) was common in 24.7% of the patients. Dietary n-3 fatty acids and coenzyme Q10 have been found to prevent the increased circadian occurrence of cardiac events in our randomized controlled trials, possibly by increasing HRV. We have also found that n-3 fatty acids plus CoQ can decrease TNF-alpha and IL-6 in AMI which are pro-inflammatory agents. There is evidence that dietary n-3 fatty acids canenhance hippocampal acetylecholine levels, which may be protective. Similarly, the stimulation of the vagus nerve may inhibit TNF synthesis in the liver and acetylecholine, the principal vagal neurotransmitter, significantly attenuates the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines TNF-alpha, interleukin 1,6 and 18, but not the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 in experiments. Therefore, any agent which can enhance brain acetylecholine levels, may be used as a therapeutic agent in protecting the suprachiasmatic nucleus, higher nervous centres, vagal activity and sympathetic nerve activity which are known to regulate the body clock and HRV and the risk of SCD and heart attack.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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