Apparently, heart disease has been around for a while. Studies on mummies have confirmed this.
There has been much hullabaloo about heart disease and its prevention, and most of it focuses on diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices. Many times we are told that if we eat the right kinds of food, work out a certain number of minutes per week, and refrain from unhealthy choices--see drinking alcohol, smoking, drugs, sugary drinks, etc.--then we can prevent or substantially lessen our chances of developing heart disease.
Yet, the study reveals that even in cultures where people were supposedly living healthy lifestyles and eating healthy foods folks developed heart disease.
Many moons ago, I wrote about one of my Bowen Family System's classes in which we had watched a video concerning baboons. In that video, we saw how the alpha male baboons--the apex baboons who have little to fear or be anxious about because of their dominance--did not have plaque build up in their arteries. They were relatively healthy. However, the beta males--the ones further down the social ladder who were at the mercy of the alpha males and who experienced much more chronic anxiety--were found to have substantial plaque build up in their arteries.
Now, certainly this is not the only variable separating these two groups, but perhaps, just perhaps it could be studied much, much more. For I have come to believe that anxiety, particularly of the chronic nature, has major, major, major implications for health.
Yes, I know the supposed links between cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption and lack of exercise and what have you regarding heart disease. But, is it possible (or perhaps even likely) that those who suffer from chronic anxiety tend to be those who drink more, smoke more, and exercise less? Is the "reason" for their lifestyle choices based upon anxiety rather than an act of will? Does smoking, drinking, and lack of exercise serve more as binding mechanisms for anxiety than as simply poor choices that people make?
Please note that I am not suggesting people have no responsibility in the choices they make. They certainly do. However, anxiety wages a particular strength and power that is very, very difficult to overcome, and it transcends culture and time. No culture or family or person is completely free of anxiety.
And as anxiety increases, so does instances of cancer, heart disease, obesity, and other such issues.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture where anxiety is multiplied many times over. We are constantly being worked up by much of what we view, read, and hear. Rarely do we come across anyone who truly works to lessen the anxiety of a group or a culture. There aren't many leaders around willing to say, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
Bowen was fascinated by the aspect of faith and its effects on anxiety and self-differentiation. He believed it could serve as a catalyst to help people define themselves and lessen their anxiety as they tapped into the wealth of strength that spirituality offered.
Christianity particularly has a strong bent toward lessening anxiety--especially if we take Jesus' words recorded both in the book of Matthew and the book of Luke seriously:
"Don't worry. You are more important than birds, and your Heavenly Father cares for birds. You are more important than grass and flowers, and your Heavenly Father provides for grass and flowers. Don't worry about tomorrow because today has enough worries for today. Seek first the Kingdom of God, and everything else will be given to you." (Paraphrased.)
If indeed, this study is correct, heart disease is not so much governed by diet and exercise and lifestyle choices. There are underlying causes which transcend time and culture. Anxiety is one such thing, and it's lessening isn't exactly easy to accomplish.
But faith certainly helps.