There are a few names in Hollywood that almost everyone knows. Carrie Fisher, known best from Star Wars as Princess Leia, was the daughter of Debbie Reynolds, who was a household name as she starred in many movies, musicals, and TV shows across five decades. Mother and daughter grew very close in their latter years, and even lived as next door neighbors.
Debbie had only one son and one daughter. She particularly cherished the Christmas season with them, and in 2016, Debbie was preparing a major Christmas celebration days in advance. Just before Christmas, Carrie had a heart attack which led to her death four days later. The Christmas dinner never happened, and the already prepared table just sat there, vacant. One day after Carrie died, Debbie died of a stroke. She had told her son that day, “I just want to be with Carrie.” Her son said Debbie simply died of a “broken heart.” Carrie was 60, and Debbie was 84.
The call of the heart
Acute stress such as the loss of a loved one can cause a rapid loss of muscle strength in the heart. “Heart ache” from a major emotional shock can be real. This can happen in a couple of ways. First, the hormones that are produced during stress, such as adrenaline, can cause the small arteries of the heart that provide its blood supply to narrow, reducing the heart’s supply of oxygen during the trauma. Second, the calcium cycle that causes the heart muscle to contract properly and on time is disrupted because the adrenaline binds directly to the heart cells and causes an unusual influx of calcium into them.
A study in the European Heart Journal, conducted at the Harvard Medical School, connected previous ongoing stress with the onset of broken heart syndrome: they found that stress-related brain activity years before increases the risk of the syndrome occurring. Chronic stress does damage over time, and weakens the heart, setting it up for a serious event later. The “broken heart syndrome” reverses quickly if the acute stress diminishes, often doing no permanent damage, but long-term stress quietly, slowly does damage that eventually may be irreversible. Chronic stress increases the number of catecholamines (stress hormones such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, and dopamine), glucocorticoids (steroids), and inflammatory cytokines in circulation. All of these chemicals are meant for short term performance or for dealing with threats, and when elevated for long periods they overwhelm the body, including the heart. Further, chronic stress keeps blood pressure high, causing physical stress on blood vessels and forcing the heart to work harder without rest. Worry, relationship issues, work performance demands, subliminal messages, or a “sad heart” can do more damage than acute, short-term stress. Most of us are slowly hurting ourselves with chronic stress, and it may be so much a standard part of our lives that we don’t realize the danger. Instead, cardiovascular issues creep up on us until they make themselves obvious in heart or vascular disease.
“Broken heart syndrome” sounds much better than “hyper-amygdala activity-induced stress cardiomyopathy”, but the latter suggests how emotions can lead to heart stress or failure, whether from acute or chronic stress. The amygdala is the emotional center in the brain, and in many ways it is what we call “the heart” when we refer to emotions. In a study published by The Lancet, research conducted at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston used brain imaging to determine the resting level of metabolic activity of the amygdala in each participant and correlate that to later cardiovascular disease events. Their study showed that a higher resting activity level of the amygdala, representing ongoing emotional upset, presented similar cardiovascular risk to other common risk factors such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Those with higher resting amygdala activity “experienced subsequent cardiovascular disease events sooner than those with lower resting amygdalar activity.” The amygdala has multiple connections to the brainstem which produces sympathetic responses in the central nervous system; in other words, emotions have a strong impact throughout the entire body. If those emotional stresses remain, then long term impacts occur throughout the cardiovascular system.
Help your heart, help your brain
Just as your brain signals your heart and can either strengthen or weaken it, so your heart supports your brain. When your cardiovascular system is functioning well, your brain receives the nourishment and oxygen that it needs. Only five minutes without oxygen is enough to cause brain cells to die, and your brain uses 20% of the oxygen in your body, and about the same percentage of the body’s calories. All parts of the body are connected, and you can generally say that what is good for one part of the body is good for the whole, but the heart and the brain have a special relationship, which we sometimes call an “axis”. The central nervous system is the extension of the brain, and the vascular system that carries blood throughout your body is an extension of the heart. The heart-brain axis is connected through the nervous and circulatory systems. The central nervous system is directing each heartbeat, and the cardiovascular system provides each second of vital oxygen to the brain.
The pathways, nerve interactions, electrical and chemical interactions are extremely complex. While the impact of cardiovascular disease on the nervous system has been known for a long time, observing the effects of neurological disorders on the cardiovascular system requires sophisticated techniques which have only been available for a couple of decades. An article published in Circulation Research, by the American Heart Association, explains how a network of brain regions control the cardiovascular function through the sympathetic (which regulates homeostasis and the “fight or flight” response) and parasympathetic (which regulates resting and digestion) nervous systems. These systems have complimentary functions and should be in balance. Overstimulation or hyperactivity of one over the other leads to a damaging imbalance. Helping your brain function in balance helps your heart.
Exercising and strengthening the heart and keeping blood flowing freely through the vascular network improves your brain function, making good thoughts possible. Some mental conditions can be traced back to poor oxygen or nutrient supply to the brain. Exercise is a known stress-reliever which can interrupt the chronic stress cycle that is so damaging to your health. This, in turn, leads to a healthier heart as the brain is not signaling stress to the heart. Strengthening your heart helps your brain.
Heart and brain are so connected, that in patients with mental degeneration and heart issues, it is hard to know which originated the disease. This much is clear: optimum health requires attention to both.
Build up or break down
Health tends to be either an upward or downward spiral. Most of us are rather good at the downward spiral: we accept bad health habits and don’t work that hard on our health. When we really see how health can be built up, we don’t want to stop. The upward spiral takes intentional effort, but is well worth it. So if you desire better health, you can get what your heart desires!
Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
The amygdala is the fear and emotional response center in the brain. It works perfectly under short term circumstances in choosing to run rather than to fight to save one’s life, but if it is stays activated (increased metabolic activity) it can even start growing more amygdala neurons with chronic activation, which is not a good thing. This not only opens the door for cardiovascular disease but also for chronic immune suppression, anxiety and depression. So why is the amygdala staying metabolically active and stimulated? How do you perceive the world around you? With Debbie Reynolds she could not see a world without her daughter so her world ended. But what if she saw a world with her remaining son instead. What if she shifted her perception just a bit from what she did not have to what she did have and was thankful for him? Maybe she would not have let go of living quite so quickly. When we do 3D Brain Imaging on a patient it is clear that the amygdalar area is active with chronic stressors and remains so until the chronic stressor is released with our Heart Brain Entrainment Therapy. Also when the mind is stressing the body this way it produces inflammation which not only can give you a heart attack or stroke but also can grow a tumor by suppressing immune function. Live each moment fully.
If you need guidance in your journey here are the ways:
- Outpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-has the most benefit of teaching, treatment, live classes and personalized coaching. This program has the most contact with Dr. Nemec with 3- 6 month programs that can be turned into a regular checking and support program for life. This is our core program that has helped so many restore their health and maintain that restoration for years.
- Inpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-is our four-week intensive inpatient program for those that are not in driving distance, usually over 4 hour drive. This is the program that is an intensive jumpstart with treatment, teaching, live classes and coaching designed for all our international patients along with those in the US that do not live in Illinois. This program is very effective especially when combined with our new membership program support.
- Stay at Home Program-is offered to continental US patients who cannot come to Total Health Institute but still want a more personal, customized plan to restore their health. This program also includes our Learn Membership Program.
- Membership Program is our newest program offered for those that want to work on their health at a high level and want access to the teaching at Total Health Institute along with the Forums: both Dr. Nemec’s posts and other members posting. And also, to have the chance to get personalized questions answered on the conference calls which are all archived in case you miss the call. The Membership Program has 3 levels to choose from: Learn, Overcome and Master. The difference is at the Overcome and Master levels you received one on one calls with Dr. Nemec personalizing your program for your areas of focus.