Never before has a story so easily written its own ironic headline.
Hard Marriages Can Harden Arteries
Honey, stop nagging - you're killing me
Hard-work marriage hard on your arteries
Study: Bad Relationships Bad For Heart
Take those marital arguments to heart.
Aside from the entertainment value of the headlines, one must be aware that anger causes Qi to stagnate. In time, this can result in blood stagnation, a common cause of heart disease in traditional Chinese medicine theory.
TCM is of course full of metaphors, mostly environmental in nature such as "internal wind", or "damp-heat". However some practitioners like to extend metaphors further such as the hardening of the arteries that this research describes in spouses that have hurtful relationships may be indicative of a lack of flexibility in matters of the heart. Can inflexibility in our social interactions result in inflexibility in the coronary artery? It appears so.
To put this into more clinically relevant terms, anger, frustration, stress all effect the (TCM concept of the) Liver whose job it is to ensure the free flow of Qi. When stress hits you, the Qi stagnates in a variety of locations. That could be in the stomach and intestines where peristalsis (muscular contractions necessary for the movement of intestinal contents) is compromised. Qi stagnation can also arise beneath the ribs causing a dull achy pain there (from which the term "hypochondriac" arises. Hypo=below, chondria=ribs). Finally because the Liver is in charge of ensuring the free flow of Qi in the chest as well, a common outcome of stress or Liver Qi stagnation is frequent sighing. There may also be a sense of tightness in the chest.
A clinical reality behind Qi stagnation is that with time, it can result in blood stagnation and this is where a little problem can get much bigger. This can be described in some cases as heart disease. Blood is said to be propelled by Qi. On one level that is the "Heart Qi" or the pumping action of the heart, however Qi's relationship to blood can also be described as the effect of nitric oxide on the cardiovascular system. Essentially, there is a little puff of this gas expressed from the cells that line the inside of the arteries to help them loosen up just a bit. This allows the arteries to actually assist in the pumping action of the heart in the flow of blood throughout the body.
Another TCM statement of fact is that the "Heart Dominates the Vessels". While this is an easy relationship to accept, the fact that the pumping function of the heart is not the only process involved in the circulation of blood makes room for the idea that Qi flow is common denominator to both of these mechanisms.
When stress causes the Qi to stagnate, the blood begins to stagnate as well. So, treating the Liver Qi in hurtful relationships can help the spouses live longer. Better yet, spouses should take this study to heart and seek out counseling or some other means by which their interactions can flow a little bit more healthfully.