Protect Your Heart by Reducing Stress
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that 30 percent of all deaths globally each year (approximately 18 million people) are from cardiovascular disease.
Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in Canada and each year, more than 50,000 people have strokes. Approximately 300,000 Canadians are currently living with the long-term effects of stroke.
In January 2010, the Heart and Stroke Foundation designated young adults as the newest at-risk group for heart disease in Canada.
In the span of a decade the rate of high blood pressure among Canadians has jumped by 77 per cent, diabetes by 45 per cent and obesity by 18 per cent. These factors are all risks for heart disease and are becoming more prevalent among young adults. There are more than 250,000 Canadians between 20 and 30 years of age who have high blood pressure and in the age group 35 to 49, high blood pressure has increased by 127 per cent, diabetes by 64 per cent and obesity by 20 per cent.
In an era of high-tech medicinal wonders, medical researchers have recently found a free and easy way to predict a woman’s risk of future heart attack: take her pulse. It was found that those women with the highest resting pulse – more than 76 beats per minute – were more likely to suffer a heart attack or die from coronary heart disease than women with the lowest – 62 beats per minute or less.
The heart, as considered by many traditional cultures, may indeed be the seat of the human spirit. Research on the scientific mechanism of the age-old wisdom that it is possible to die of a “broken heart” is being done and so far, it is safe to say that scientists are finding depression is an independent risk factor for the development of both coronary artery disease and stroke.
Stress and the emotions associated with stress are important risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The Mayo Clinic reported the strongest risk factor among individuals with existing coronary artery disease is psychological health as a predictor of future cardiac events. When researchers interview heart attack survivors, they found the intensity and timing of stressful emotions like anger, anxiety and worry dramatically increased their risk.
There is more and more medical literature on the effects of negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, depression and anger on cardiovascular disease. Add to these the effects of chronic stressors such as job stress, difficult marital relationships, financial problems, the burden of care giving or living in chronic pain. The adverse cardiovascular effects can be severe or even fatal.
EFFECTS OF CHRONIC STRESS ON THE CARDIOVASCULAR AND METABOLIC SYSTEMS
Scientific research indicates chronic stress can:
- Increase risk of coronary heart disease – increase risk of tachycardia, atrial or ventricular fibrillation – elevate blood pressure and heart rate
- Increase atherosclerosis – increase the risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack) – increase the risk of diabetes – increase the likelihood of obesity
Reference: McEwen BS. Protective and damaging effects of stress mediators. New England Journal of Medicine. 1998;338(3):171-179
Hair Gives a Heads-Up on Heart Attack Risk
A new study published in the journal Stress found that the stress hormone cortisol can be measured in hair, providing the first long-term record of chronic stress. In this study high levels of cortisol in the hair were associated with heart attacks. This test may be used to identify people at risk for cardiovascular disease.
Health Tips to Decrease Your Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease
- Exercise – a lack of exercise has been found to be a primary factor in reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Even walking 30 minutes three times a week decreases your risk of heart attack by 30 per cent. Gentle jogging or increasing walking speed can reduce risk up to 60 per cent. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that leisure time and physical activity decreased heart disease by 50 per cent.
- Water, Water, Water – keeping well hydrated can help maintain healthy blood flow. As little as five or six glasses of water daily can cut your risk of heart disease in half.
- Quit Smoking
- Diet – a diet high in fruits and vegetables, fish (a good source of essential fatty acids) and lean meats (ie Mediterranean diet) can considerably reduce the risk of heart disease as well as other chronic disease.
- Rest and Relaxation – make sure you get adequate sleep and find ways to reduce your stress, such as exercise or meditation. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and hypertension.
- Eliminate refined carbohydrates – refined carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin that has many harmful effects in the body. Through a series of steps in the body, high insulin levels promote fat storage, increase blood pressure, shut off fat-burning pathways and turns on pathways that produce fat and triglycerides. Arterial damage and plaque formation (atherosclerosis) is also increased.
- Emotional State – Don’t Worry, Be Happy – studies at Harvard medical school show that negative emotions such as anger, depression, worry or anxiety are linked to an increased risk for heart disease. In older adults, it has been found that depression was associated with a greater than 50 per cent risk of heart failure.
- Consumption of Fats and Oils – Don’t get caught up in the “Fat Phobia.” Good fats do not promote heart disease or cholesterol problems. Instead of hydrogenated and heated oils – such as margarines, deep fried foods and processed oils – use essential fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6) from flax, pumpkin seed and fish oils. Olive oil is also good for the heart. Animal fats are not the bad guys – heated, refined oils are.
Also, look for an adrenal gland supporting nutritional formula at your local Health Food Store. Supporting your adrenal glands to protect against the symptoms of chronic stress provides a good start to reducing the overall negative effects of stress. I recommend AdrenaSense® to my patients, with Rhodiola, Suma, Siberian ginseng, Schisandra and Ashwagandha to help reduce stress, improve energy and promote restful sleep.
Dr. Marita Schauch BSc ND is a graduate of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, Canada’s premier institute for education and research in naturopathic medicine. Dr. Schauch’s health articles educate the public about health and wellness and have been featured in numerous print media. She currently resides and has her clinical practice in Victoria B.C. www.drmarita.com