The relationship between physical and mental health is an area of continuous study.
One area of interest is how high blood pressure may impact mental health outcomes like anxiety and depression.
A new study recently published in General Psychiatry found that diastolic blood pressure may have a causal effect on neuroticism.
This personality trait can contribute to anxiety and mood disorders. The study opens up the possibility for further research into this complex relationship.
Understanding diastolic blood pressure and mental health
Blood pressure involves the force of blood being pumped by the heart throughout the body.
There are two main readingsTrusted Source for it: the systolic pressure and the diastolic pressure.
The systolic pressure is a measurement of when the heart is contracting. The diastolic pressure measures when the heart is at rest.
High blood pressure can be dangerous and is a risk factor for more severe health problemsTrusted Source, including stroke, vision loss, and heart failure. Researchers are still working to understand how blood pressure affects components of mental health and mental illness.
Researchers in this particular study were interested in how blood pressure influenced neuroticism. David Tzall, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist not involved in the study, offered insight into the neurotic personality type:
“Neuroticism covers many different parts of a personality, and it does not necessarily encompass one thing. Those with higher scores of neuroticism are likely to be more sensitive to their emotions or situations, worry a disproportionate amount to a situation, and have high rates of anxiety. While some people may view neuroticism as negative, it is neither good nor bad. Neuroticism has many adaptive qualities and can be of great use to someone. It is viewed with a negative perception, but this is not accurate.”
NeuroticismTrusted Source is not a mental health disorder — but people with this personality type are more prone to negative emotions and changes in mood.
Neuroticism may also be a risk factor for mental illnesses like anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and mood disorders.
High blood pressure and neuroticism: A ‘causal relationship’
For the present study, researchers wanted to see if they could identify a causal relationship between four components of blood pressure (systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, pulse pressure, and hypertension) and four psychological states (anxiety, depression, neuroticism, and subjective well-being).
Researchers utilized a unique technique called Mendelian randomizationTrusted Source in their work. This method looks at gene variants to help determine if a specific factor causes a particular outcome. This is a way to indirectly study cause in a way that does not harm study participants. The authors used genome-wide association studies to collect their data.
Most of the factors examined did not become significant. The main exceptions were the relationship between diastolic blood pressure and neuroticism.
The results indicated that diastolic blood pressure has a “genetic causal effect on neuroticism.”
Based on these findings, the researchers note that “appropriate management of BP may reduce neuroticism, neuroticism-inducing mood disorders, and cardiovascular diseases.”
Dr. Melody Hermel, a cardiologist with United Medical Doctors in Southern California, not involved in the study, shared her thoughts on the research with Medical News Today:
“Prior studies have noted an association between anxiety disorders and hypertension. The strengths of this trial include the use of GWAS [Genome-wide association studies] datasets with large sample sizes. In general, the association between DBP [diastolic blood pressure] and neuroticism aligns with our understanding of the deleterious effects of stress on the body.”
Blood pressure and mental health: More research needed
This study indicates the need for more research into the relationship between mental health, emotions, and blood pressure.
It does have several limitations due to the nature of the study and its research methods. Researchers primarily used genetic information from European populations. This indicates the need for more diverse follow-ups.
Researchers also acknowledged the possibility of bias in results regarding psychological characteristics causing the blood pressure characteristics.
There is also the possibility that a gene influenced more than one characteristic (pleiotrophy). Dr. Hermel further noted her thoughts on continued research in this area:
“The specific causal relationship between DBP [diastolic blood pressure] and neuroticism is a bit difficult to tease out. As the authors note, neuroticism is a complex trait, and studying it independently from anxiety and depression may produce bias. In the era of machine learning, one might consider an advanced analysis clustering features of anxiety-based disorders to better understand their relationship with hypertension.”
Tips to maintain healthy blood pressure levels
This study adds to a growing body of evidence that controlling blood pressure to keep it in a healthy range is essential.
The findings suggest that control of blood pressure may influence other areas of well-being, like mental and emotional health.
Thus, taking steps to control blood pressure could be essential to maintaining emotional well-being and may help curb some of the effects of neuroticism.
Controlling blood pressure can involve both lifestyle modifications and sometimes the use of medications.
“Managing blood pressure requires a multifaceted approach that combines adequate monitoring, lifestyle changes, and sometimes medications,” Dr. Jim Liu, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, not involved in the study, told MNT.
Dr. Liu explained that the first step to managing blood pressure involves monitoring blood pressure levels, typically at home and at doctor’s visits.
“If blood pressure is high, lifestyle measures are usually recommended, such as weight loss, adhering to a low sodium diet, and exercising,” Dr. Liu said.
“If blood pressure medications are necessary, it’s important to take these as instructed and to maintain regular follow-up with healthcare [professionals].”