Today I have a very interesting new study to share with you, published just this year on March 17, 2021 in JAMA Cardiology. Most studies on heart disease focus on the male population, so this one really caught my eye — specifically focusing on the link between heart disease in women with a history of trauma.
Looking at almost 400,000 women, researchers identified women diagnosed with PTSD and matched them to age and cardiovascular risk correlated female controls with no history of PTSD. They then looked at ischemic heart disease outcomes, including new onset coronary artery disease, angina or heart attack (myocardial infarction) over a 5 year follow up period.
Researchers found that a history of PTSD in younger females increased the risk of developing subsequent heart disease by almost 60%. Yuck. A history of trauma increased the risk of lasting heart health issues long term.
To me, this study serves to underscore how very strongly our mental and emotional state affect our well being. But you already knew that if you subscribe to my newsletter, because years ago I told you about a medical study published in Lancet in 2017 that suggests why there is a direct correlation between stress and heart attack.
It turns out, increased brain activity in the area of emotional processing (the amygdala) directly increases the risk of cardiovascular events. This study was the first to show that increased amygdala activity in humans strongly predicts cardiovascular events such as stroke, heart attack and angina.
In other words, the emotional center of our brain is connected to our heart health. That’s because of the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotions, survival instincts and memory. And that literally sums up how stress feels: it’s an increased emotional load, a feeling of being overwhelmed when trying to navigate a stressful situation, and traumatic memories from the past that all get linked up with traumatic present experiences — which come together to increase the metabolic activity in your amygdala.
The Study (published Jan 11, 2017 in Lancet):
- 293 patients underwent full body PET/CT scans at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA
- Resting metabolic activity in the amygdala, bone marrow and arterial walls were measured
- Increased resting metabolic activity in the amygdala was strongly correlated with increased bone marrow activity, increased arterial inflammation, and increased risk of cardiovascular events (stroke, MT, or angina) during an average follow up period of 3 1/2 years.
- In a follow up study, researchers examined 13 patients with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) who underwent PET scans and filled out a Stress Scale Questionnaire (PSS-10)
- They found that high levels of self rated stress correlated with increase in amygdala activity, higher levels of arterial inflammation, and higher levels of the blood inflammatory marker: C-reactive protein.
Based on these studies, researchers now believe that it is actually the brain activity of the amygdala (and emotional stress in particular) that links stressful events with cardiovascular disease — causing increased hemopoietic tissue activity (in the bone marrow, where blood is made) and increased vascular inflammation, both which directly increase cardiovascular disease and up the risk of stroke, heart attack and angina.
Researchers suggest that it is this increased activation of the emotional amgydala area of the brain that raises the risk for heart disease and stroke. So chronic emotional stress raises the baseline metabolic rate of this particular area of the brain, which strongly and directly raises the risk factor for cardiovascular events.
The link between stress and heart attack, stroke, and angina is so pronounced that researchers are advocating stress levels to be considered an independent risk factor for heart disease, along with other cardiac risk factors such as age, smoking history, and family history of heart disease.
But the good news is this: treat the stress and you can potentially prevent heart attack in the first place. A study published on April 5, 2016 in Circulation suggests that this actually has real world applications. Researchers followed over 150 patients who were assigned to have cardiac rehab care following a cardiac event, and found that by adding stress management skills into their cardiac rehab program they were able to slash the rate of future cardiac events in a 5 year follow up period in half!
So if reducing stress reduces the risk of subsequent heart attack by 50%, now we know why: stressful brain activity is directly correlated with cardiovascular events. Reduce the stress response in the brain, reduce heart disease in the body.
On an energetic level, as an intuitive physician I can confirm this..,. you can protect the longevity of your heart on a medical, spiritual, emotional and energetic level if you simply release the barriers stress has placed around your heart. To help show you this, I tore a page out of my old med school anatomy book and painted it for you:
We have a heart to pump blood (and thereby deliver oxygen and nutrients) to every part of our body. It’s function is absolutely critical to life. The heart is composed of a mass of muscle cells who’s function is to work together to deliver the vital nutrients, oxygen and fluids in our blood to our entire organism.
But what is the one thing your heart needs in order to do all this, in order to function at all? Flexibility.
The heart’s strength is it’s flexibility.
If your heart is boxed in, walled up, protected… it’s not flexible at all. It’s brittle. It can’t work. It absolutely needs to have flexibility — it’s walls broken down, removed — in order to maintain it’s strength.
This is exactly what happens with our heart physically. As a response to chronic inflammation, our blood vessels become coated with plaques (atherosclerosis) but these plaques, instead of strengthening our vessels, actually strangulate them.
The more coated, the thicker the walls, the higher the risk of heart attack.
The heart is pure muscle, pure power, pure strength… and it uses it’s core strength, which is the strength of flexibility, to function. It uses muscular contractions to deliver it’s heartsong… oxygen, nutrition, nurturing, love, joy, and freedom… to the entire body. This is the power of the heart, when it is full of love, infused with life, flexible, bending and free.
If your heart is hardened, if you are protecting yourself by building walls, if you are living life defensively, how can your heart spread joy and health freely to your entire body?
Your heart can not feed your body if it is strangled by the walls you have built. Lightness, joy, love… these are the emotional vibrations that keep your heart flexible and strong. These are the antidotes to any hardening of your heart you might be feeling.
Break down the immobile walls that we naturally build as we protect ourselves along the path of our life. Protecting ourselves comes at a price. Building walls brings a brittleness, a false strength that can suffocate that which you are trying to protect.
With your own flexibility gone, you lose your power. Far more powerful is the heart that can open fully and contract fully… that can feel fully.
So the first step, find what barriers you have built.
Allow them to soften.
Your ability to yield to life and it’s inevitable pleasures and joy and sorrows and pain, with as little resistance as possible, will make you stronger.
If your heart is feeling brittle, limited, stiff, hardened, or empty, nurture your own heart first. Begin with flexibility. Allow your thoughts to expand, give yourself the flexibility to allow multiple points of view, the vulnerability to be hurt, and the strength to bounce back even stronger.
Give yourself a little love. A little softness. A little forgiveness. A little flexibility.
Flexibility is what makes your heart strong. Powerful flexibility of the heart is what feeds your entire body, infusing it with life sustaining nutrition, oxygen, and fluids.
Here is another artwork I created using my same med school anatomy book, this time showing you the pathway towards restoring heart health. I added one of my favorite Rumi quotes to it to remind us to focus on flexibility and openness to restore heart health:
So, with the focus on flexibility and embracing our core strength by being open and pliable… where can our hearts take us?
To the very opposite of being constricted, walled in, brittle… expansion, pure expansion!
Our hearts are the center of our ability to expand… expand beyond just ourselves, and beyond just our limited experience, and expand beyond just this situation.
We can feel our connection to others, and our eternal nature. Our heart center expands outwards in a powerful, measurable energy field, right from the center of our being. In fact, our heart’s energy field is actually bigger than our brain’s measurable energy field.
You can literally feel this in your body. Have you ever sat, focusing on something that made you so happy that you literally felt your heart grow larger and larger and larger still?
Have you ever felt that your chest was going to explode, your heart energy got so big?
Have you ever felt your heart vibration reach past your chest, past your body, reach into the space around, to the people around you, to the universe around you?
It feels so good, and it feels so good because it is the healthy state of being connected to all of the energy around you.
You are dropping the limited barriers of what defines *you* and reaching out to *all that is*… in this state, you are pure, positive joy. In this state, you have blown up all the barriers around your heart, the ones that you built to *protect you* that actually harm you… they are dissolved and meaningless.
You are greater than this one moment in time, this one body, this one lifetime.
Through your heart, you can expand past any problem, any limitation. Through your heart, you can connect to all that is physical and non-physical around you. Through your heart, you can *feel* the eternal connections that you can’t physically see with your eyes.
Your heart is an amazing electrically activated organ, designed to pump nutrition and health throughout your entire body. It’s designed to pump joy and love throughout your entire being. It’s entire function is dependent on it’s ability to translate energetic impulses into a functional push of the blood throughout your body.
But do not limit your heart to what it physically can do. Do not regard it as a piece of muscle designed to transport blood. Instead, really *feel* the entire purpose of it’s design. It is the one organ, more than any other, that connects your entire body together — infusing every single organ system with life giving nutrients. It reaches every tissue, every surface, every organ. Through it’s immense meshwork of vasculature, your heart is one of complete and utter connection.
Physically expanding to reach every single cell in your body… and emotionally, expanding your life force from the core of you to the universe around you.
To strengthen and expand your feelings of health and joy, remember back to those experiences where you feel your heart expanding, and seek to find those more often.
I felt them most intensely as a new mom, holding my babies. I can bring back that feeling any time I wish by remembering what it was like to hold them in my arms. To love on them. To take care of them. To adore them.
Recall your own times when your have felt your heart swell and reach for that feeling as often as you can. In this state you are realizing that the walls you build around your body and mind are no longer helpful, but instead, are constricting.
This picture was taken over a dozen years ago, my kids are now all grown up and off to college… yet when I sit in appreciation for my children I can literally still feel my heart pound against my chest just like it did when they were little… expanding through my entire body, then out of my body, pulsing into the universe and connecting me to a greater love.
It is in these moments that I *know* I am tapped in to something more than just myself. And it is in these moments that I know my connection to my children is eternal.
Do what you can, today, to find a moment like this and savor it.
You have just found your heartsong.
Every moment you spend in that state, you spend in the state of pure and absolute health.
If you have built up walls around your heart as a response to trauma, you are not alone. This is totally normal and you absolutely can release them. I can help you.
If you want more guidance on releasing the damage that past traumas have caused to your health, please join into my upcoming Trauma Resiliency class. I designed this course to help protect the longevity and health of your body, so that you can move forward with resiliency instead of holding on to wounds you have endured. As today’s medical literature reveals, by releasing stress you can literally protect your body’s health — even reducing your risk of heart attack.
You can actually become healthier after trauma if you simply know how to process and release it instead of ignoring it. I’m right here to help you with this. Sign up here to reserve your spot now, class starts on September 6th