How runaway stress hurts your heart – and your brain

There are few life events more stressful, in my considered opinion, than surviving a heart attack. Not only is the actual cardiac event a traumatic and overwhelming experience in itself, but what very few cardiologists  tell us before they boot us out the hospital door is how debilitating the day-to-day angst about every little subsequent bubble and squeak can actually be.  I can recall, for example, feeling virtually paralyzed with fear over unexpected chest pains following my heart attack (symptoms, I later learned from my cardiac nurse, that are often called “stretching pain” – common in recently stented coronary arteries). These symptoms turned out to be relatively benign – NOT the massive second heart attack I feared they signaled at the time.

David Ropeik teaches at Harvard and is the author of Risk! A Practical Guide for Deciding What’s Really Safe and What’s Really Dangerous in the World Around You. His observations about worry and chronic stress – such as living with heart disease – may ring true for you.

He recently asked his Big Think column readers:

“Want something else to worry about? Worry about worrying too much. The evidence is building that chronically elevated stress shrinks your brain.”   Continue reading “How runaway stress hurts your heart – and your brain”

Is your doctor telling you to “meditate, eat veggies, walk, quit smoking?” If not, why not?

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥ @HeartSisters

Newsweek once called his advice “the state of the art in psycho-cardiology” – a lifestyle regimen best known for the stringency of its ultra-low-fat diet, but with equal emphasis on exercise and stress reduction. And in The Atlantic, the famous preventive medicine guru Dr. Dean Ornish has written an essay called Why Health Care Works Better than Disease Care. Dr. O is founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute.

And his research studies were the first to claim that lifestyle changes can reverse cardiovascular disease without drugs.

He’s a rare duck: a man with the letters M.D. after his name who shuns the prescription pad and Big Pharma’s domination of what’s been called “marketing-based medicine”. Instead, he has long advocated preventing – and even reversing – heart disease without drugs or surgery through changing your lifestyle. He actually recommends two different diets:  the prevention diet and the reversal diet. The reversal diet is a very strict low-fat diet designed for people who have diagnosed heart disease.

Alas, so far I have yet to meet any heart patient who has been successful in sticking to this extremely restrictive diet for any significant length of time. Continue reading “Is your doctor telling you to “meditate, eat veggies, walk, quit smoking?” If not, why not?”

Is everyday stress gnawing at your arteries? Take this quiz to find out

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association’s useful little publication called Coping With Stress, it is sometimes easier to recognize the damaging effects of chronic stress in others than in yourself.

“You may have learned to endure rather than overcome emotional chaos caused by stress. And your problems may already have begun to feel familiar and “normal”.  This can negatively impact your physical health – sometimes drastically. Yet many of us are unaware or unwilling to admit that we are under stress.”

Does this sound familiar?  It sure did for me. In fact, it was only after my heart attack that I was able to accurately assess the more-or-less chronic state of stress that had somehow become normalized for me. We now know that this kind of stress can have deadly consequences as a risk factor for both heart disease and stroke. People who are having problems dealing with extreme ongoing stress may live with high blood pressure, elevated levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and perhaps most deadly of all – stickier blood platelets that are more likely to clot inside coronary arteries.

Take this quiz to help you rate your own stress index – just answer YES or NO to each of these questions, and give yourself one point for each YES:  Continue reading “Is everyday stress gnawing at your arteries? Take this quiz to find out”