By Sarah A LoBisco, ND

Happy, Healthy Heart Day

I had planned to write to you all in my blog this morning before cutting out Valentine’s Day hearts with my niece and stopping into the office. As many of you know, I have a borderline OCD for learning: reading studies, listening to webinars, thumbing through journals, and bonding with blogs (including forwards from some of you fantastic smart-cookie patients, doctors, and geniuses). So, every week in my blog, I am daunted with the task of the compilation of all the useful information of what I learned that week.

Valentine Heart Royalty Free Stock Photos

This week was going to have the theme of mind-body for the heart, and it will.

After all, it’s Valentine’s Day week! 🙂

The Healthy Heart

The healthy heart isn’t just about perfect lab numbers or a squeaky clean stress test. True, it’s important to take care of ourselves and take our fish oil. Still, if we are going to be holistic, we need to look at what drives this inflammation and blood sugar deregulation that clogs our arteries.

What are the triggers of this inflammatory response and what is the genetic sensitivity of each individual?

Do you know your triggers or biochemical makeup that drives these responses for you? If not, you may want to find out.

I have previously written on the role of our heart beyond a blood-pumping organ. This fist-sized structure is a multifaceted center point for a network of communication between itself and the rest of the body.

Its messages affect the brain and nervous system, hormonal system, and immune system. The heart is not a player; it’s actually a quarterback.

I also have discussed how stress impacts our physiology.

Observe the following in its relationship to heart health:

Stress causes:

  • An increase in inflammation
  • A decrease in immune function
  • A change in hormones
  • Weight gain and cravings
  • Negative life habits (stress triggers sweet cravings trumping our health efforts)
  • Blood sugar deregulation

Furthermore, our emotional health impacts our heart.

The “Broken Heart Syndrome”

Have you ever heard of the saying, “He died of a broken heart?”
There is actually physiological proof behind this premise. I wrote about this connection on Sharecare.

Broken Heart Syndrome is a physical manifestation from a type of trauma that causes the heart to temporarily enlarge and become less productive in pumping blood.  In fact, symptoms are very similar to a heart attack in that one experiences chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, and weakness.

Although the mechanisms behind this condition are unclear, stress seems to play a big part. According to the MayoClinic:

The exact cause of broken heart syndrome is unclear. It’s thought that a surge of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, might temporarily damage the hearts of some people. How these hormones might hurt the heart or whether something else is responsible isn’t completely clear. A temporary constriction of the large or small arteries of the heart may play a role.

Broken heart syndrome is often preceded by an intense physical or emotional event. Some potential triggers of broken heart syndrome are:

  • News of an unexpected death of a loved one
  • A frightening medical diagnosis
  • Domestic abuse
  • Losing a lot of money
  • A surprise party
  • Having to perform publicly
  • Physical stressors, such as an asthma attack, infection, a car accident or major surgery

Most cases do tend to resolve quickly, but long-term and untreated emotional impact has a long-going toll on the heart.

During an episode of the condition, the heart muscle can be so profoundly affected that it can’t pump blood out to the body strongly enough. As a result, the patient may develop heart failure. This can be life-threatening, Wittstein says.

The symptoms are so similar to those of a traditional heart attack that you, a paramedic, and even many ER doctors aren’t going to know the difference, Wittstein says.

Clues that may help lead your doctor to the right diagnosis are your age and gender. More than 90% of cases reported thus far have been in women.

Mitigating the Negative Effects of Stress

So, what do we do with this information?

1. Celebrate Valentine’s Day everyday by loving yourself and others more (read more on

2. Protect your heart and mind with the stress relieving practices below.

Ten Stress Busters- Overview

View this slideshow for the ten stress busting effects and then read about why calming our brain, through meditation or yoga effects your biology.

Meditation May Decrease Inflammation Even More than Diet!

Here’s an excerpt on how chronic inflammatory disorders such as asthma, arthritis, and bowel conditions are affected by the mind:

Mindfulness meditation techniques designed to reduce emotional reactivity also reduce poststress inflammatory responses and might be useful in chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, and asthma, according to a study by Melissa A. Rosenkranz, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In an article published in the January issue of Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, the authors present a comparison between an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR) and an 8-week active control health enhancement program (HEP) that included walking, balance, agility, core strength, nutritional education, and music therapy in 49 community volunteers randomly assigned to 1 of the 2 groups.

The intervention and active-control groups had similar levels of stress-evoked cortisol response and similar reductions in psychological distress, but the group trained in mindfulness-based stress reduction had significantly smaller poststress inflammatory responses.

Yoga and Depression

Some people who are stressed out become overwhelmed and depressed. Yoga and movement can be very helpful:

It is not unusual for yoga teachers and students to report that yoga has an uplifting effect on their moods, even when they are dysphoric. Congruent with these reports, a small body of research suggests that yogic techniques may help alleviate symptoms of depression.1-3 Other studies on non-depressed persons have found increased positive and decreased negative mood following yoga practices.4-7

However, the validity and clinical utility of these findings have been questioned because of a number of methodological limitations. In addition, these studies used different forms of yoga (eg, breathing, meditation, physical postures), making it difficult to determine whether the mood-enhancing effects of yoga are general or specific to certain approaches or teachers. To our knowledge, no prospective studies have tested how the practice of physical postures (asanas), as opposed to breathing and meditation, impacts mood in persons who are depressed.

The purpose of this pilot study was to examine the effects of a five-week Iyengar yoga course on symptoms of depression in mildly depressed young adults. Within the Iyengar yoga tradition, based on the teachings of yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar, specific asanas and sequences of asanas are thought to be particularly effective for alleviating depression.8 These include asanas that open and lift the chest, especially back bends, inversions, and vigorous standing poses.

Regular Exercise

Along with meditation, Mauskrop calls staying active one of his top two most effective ways to prevent and treat migraines. Of course, many people are in too much pain in the middle of a headache to even think about heading to the gym. But a few people have told him when they feel something coming on, they can go out for a jog and avoid the migraine altogether. “It relaxes you, it releases endorphins,” he says.

Nine Ways that a Meditating Brain Creates Better Relationships

The effects of a broken heart and a physical heart are so interconnected. Here’s how practicing stress modulation can effect our emotional and relationship health:

When I first learned about these from Dan Siegel, M.D., I was stunned that something as simple as mindfulness meditation could make such inroads with the challenges of finding and creating healthy relationships.Take a look at these benefits:

1. Better management of your body’s reactions

Stress and anger lose their grip on your body more quickly and easily. When you get home from a hard day at work, you aren’t still carrying the pent-up tension and frustration in your body, and so you won’t be driven towards an angry reaction to your partner’s benign comment.

In a way, it’s like resetting your body’s “alarm” button when it’s gotten stuck in the Onposition. Vital to your relationships is your ability to (a) recognize that that’s what’s going on, (b) understand what is happening in your brain and body that is keeping you there, and (c) un-stick that alarm button. (Read the rest at the link below)

ADD & the Female Brain

It’s important to remember our individuality. There is a difference between males and females and stress affects. For example, Dr. Amen discusses the social impacts of a mental diagnosis and being female:

  • Girls with ADD suffer more than 7 times the risk for both antisocial and mood disorders, three times the risk for addictive disorders, and twice the risk for anxiety disorders.   They have a higher risk for eating disorders, such as bulimia and obesity.
  • Girls with ADD have more conflicts with their mothers and struggle more in romantic relationships.   In one study, 75% of people with ADD have interpersonal problems.

Health, the World, and Your Heart

After you’ve practiced good self-care and stress-busters, read my blog at on how the celebration of One Billion and Rising that is aimed at ending violence and merging our differences to build a better world with better relationships.


Mayo Health Clinic. Broken Heart Syndrome. 1998-2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Updated 8/10/12.

Klodas, E. Can You Die of a Broken Heart? Broken heart syndrome may often be confused with symptoms of a heart attack. WebMD.

Chan, A. Stress Health Effects: 10 Scary Things It’s Doing To Your Body. The Huffington Post. 02/04/2013.

Janis C. Kelly. Mindfulness-Based Meditation May Help Reduce Inflammation. Medscape Medical News. Jan 31, 2013.

Melissa A. Rosenkranza , et al. A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation (abstract). Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.  (27): 174–184.

Lucas, M. A Meditating Brain Creates Healthier Relationships. Chopra Center Newsletter. February 2013.

Lightning Could Spur Headaches, Migraines: Study Huffington Post. 01/24/2013.

Dr. Tori Hudson. Botanical Strategies for Migraines and Depression. Integrative Practitioner Webinar. Sponsered by Gaia Herbs. 1/24/2013. 2013 Diversified Business Communications.

The Amen Clinics. ADD & the Female Brain. Dr. Amen’s Blog. 2/5/13.

Alison Woolery, MA, Hector Myers, PhD, Beth Sternlieb, BFA, Lonnie Zeltzer, MD. A YOGA INTERVENTION FOR YOUNG ADULTS WITH ELEVATED SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION. Altern Ther Health Med. 2004;10(2):60-63. Republished by Modern Health Care Professional at:


Dr. Christiane Northrup. Our Biography is our Biology. 1/9/13.

Heart as an organ:


Heart Health and Physical Tips, Cholesterol, yoga and heart health:

Other tips that relate to how stress impacts everything from your mood to your choices in what goes in your mouth:

Biochemistry of stress: