Diastolic blood pressure — the lower of the two numbers in a blood pressure reading — most likely triggers a neurotic personality trait, finds research published in General Psychiatry.
And keeping it under control may help curb neurotic behavior, anxiety and cardiovascular disease, the researchers conclude.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and is thought to be associated with it psychological factorssuch as anxiety, depression, and neuroticism—a personality trait characterized by susceptibility to negative emotions, including anxiety and depression.
But what causes what is not entirely clear.
To find out, the researchers used a technique called Mendelian randomization. This uses genetic variants as proxies to obtain a particular risk factor – in this case, blood pressure genetic evidence in support of a causal relationship, reducing the biases inherent in observational studies.
Between 30% and 60% of blood pressure is due to genetic factors, and more than 1,000 genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs for short, are associated with it. SNPs help predict a person’s response to certain medications, sensitivity to environmental factors, and their risk of developing disease.
The researchers drew from 8 large-scale study datasets from which whole genome DNA had been extracted Blood samples of people of predominantly European descent (genome-wide association studies).
They applied Mendelian randomization to the 4 characteristics of blood pressure:systolic blood pressure (736,650 samples), diastolic blood pressure (736,650), pulse pressure (systolic minus diastolic blood pressure; 736,650), and high bloodpressure (above 140/90 mm Hg; 463,010) with 4 psychological states: anxiety (463,010 samples), depressive symptoms (180,866), neuroticism (170,911), and subjective well-being (298,420).
The analysis found that high blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure had significant causal effects on neuroticism, but not on anxiety, depressive symptoms, or subjective well-being.
But only after adjusting for multiple tests diastolic blood pressure was significantly associated with neuroticism (greater than 90%), based on 1,074 SNPs.
The researchers acknowledge certain limitations of their findings. For example, it was not possible to completely rule out pleiotropy, where one gene can influence several traits. And the findings may not be more widely applicable than people of European descent.
But blood pressure connects the brain and heart and can thus promote the development of personality traits, they explain.
“People with neuroticism can be sensitive to the criticism of others, are often self-critical, and easily develop anxiety, anger, worry, hostility, self-consciousness, and depression.”
“Neuroticism is seen as a major causative factor for anxiety and mood disorders. Individuals with neuroticism are more likely to experience high levels of mental stress, which can lead to increased [blood pressure] and cardiovascular disease,” they write.
“Appropriate monitoring and control of blood pressure may be beneficial for the reduction of neuroticism, neuroticism-inducing mood disorders and cardiovascular disease.”
Cai L et al, Exploring genetic causal relationships between blood pressure and anxiety, depressive symptoms, neuroticism and subjective well-being, General Psychiatry (2022). DOI: 10.1136/gpsych-2022-100877
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