ALTHOUGH Will Rogers wittily asked for less blather and a lot more listening when he said, “never miss a good chance to shut up,” and Lao Tzu advocated silence as “a source of great strength,” there’s a serious downside to stifling the expression of your thoughts and feelings — and the toll it takes isn’t just emotional.

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Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh interviewed 306 women and did ultrasound imaging of their carotid artery. They found that the more frequently women reported being what’s called “self-silencing,” the more likely they were to have atherosclerosis in that major artery to the brain.

Carotid plaque is a serious threat: Reduction of blood flow to the brain limits oxygen essential for healthy brain function, and heavy plaque deposits or broken-off chunks can lead to a stroke.

Listen up (guys, too): Bottling up your feelings isn’t good for anyone. So if your response to a tough conversation is to shut up and shut down, here’s what cognitive behavioral therapy says can help you protect your health:

1. Tune in to how your suppressed feelings affect your body. Notice where tension sets up camp.

2. If you don’t have a friend or therapist to talk with, write down your thoughts and feelings. Get them out.

3. When communicating your feelings to another person, start the sentence with “I feel ...” Avoid “You make me feel ...”

The bottom line: Having an open heart-to-heart will improve your relationship and your heart health.

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chairman of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.

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