Last week I shared the intricate coordination between our gut and our brain, how what we eat affects our thinking and brain health. Our gut talks to our brain and vice-versa.
Similarly, in the heart-brain dialogue, we are finding that emotional stress, whether instant and highly stressful situations which elicit a “fight or flight” response or unrelenting day to day stress, can both trigger a myocardial infarction or “heart attack”.
In the case of a Takotsubo (named after the Japanese octopus trapping pot) cardiomyopathy, which is caused by acute emotional distress, the left ventricle of the heart is abnormally contracted by a huge jolt of adrenaline, causing a transient shock to the heart and can lead to failure. This can occur with the loss of a spouse or some other unexpected yet emotionally painful experience.
As we learn more about our bodily systems and their inter-connectivity, we are finding that the central nervous system, heart, adrenals, and kidneys are all involved in the release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which impact our heart health.
Additionally, chronic stress has been found to increase inflammation and oxidative stress, as well as negatively impact the endothelium, which lines our blood vessels.
When we turn our attention to the brain, we see that the amygdala controls our emotions and socialization. Studies using rhesus monkeys found that socialization came to a halt, when the amygdala connection was cut, and similar things occur in people who have had prefrontal lobotomy.
A larger amygdala may protect against cardiovascular incidents and promotes recovery, especially with strokes. People suffering from social anxiety and therefore having a smaller volume amygdala were not afforded this cardiac protection. Chronic stress results in increased blood pressure and therefore increases the risk of a cardiac event over time and reduces brain plasticity.
How do we protect ourselves from cardiac stress and incidents? I think you know I am going to recommend lifestyle changes, right?
Which ones are the most impactful on our emotional health? To reduce day to day life stressors, start incorporating the following into your regular routine:
1. Meditation activates serotonin, necessary for mood stabilization and warding off depression.
2. Yoga induces GABA, a naturally occurring amino acid which also regulates mood, reducing stress and anxiety.
3. Laughter releases endorphins and belly laughs increase the flexibility of aging blood vessels and is good for the endothelium too. Heck, try laughter yoga for multiple benefits.
4. Music that we enjoy soothes us, causing relaxation and the release of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, increasing our sense of well-being.
5. Massage decreases levels of cortisol, increases serotonin and dopamine, and the relaxation which occurs during a massage benefits your heart and your brain equally.
Closing out February, Heart Health Month, particularly for women, I recommend you take good care of your heart (and your brain) with a healthy dose of any or all of the above.
And if you need some help with figuring all of this out, please reach out with any questions you may have. As a holistic health practitioner, I help you develop your own wellness tools through education, exposure, and experience. Book a free consultation today.