The Nature of the Heart

by Deb Brothers-Klezmer, BSN, RN-BC, CRRN, NCTMB & Wendy Midgley,RD, MED, CDE

“When your HEART is OPEN, you feel called upon to support things beyond yourself.”         —Tony Robbins—

The human heart is a true wonder of Nature!  It is located under the rib cage, in the center of the chest, between the right and left lungs.   Weighing ~10-12 ounces in an adult male and ~8-11 ounces in an adult female, it is made up of muscle and connective tissue, divided into 4 chambers.  Its muscular walls beat or contract, pumping blood to all parts of the body.

In this BLOG, we discuss the various aspects of the heart: physical, emotional, and spiritual–and leave you with some thoughts and recommendations to contemplate.

We refer to the heart in so many contexts.   “That person has a lot of heart” (or ‘no heart’).  “Let’s get to the heart of the matter.”   “What a sweet-heart!”  “That really touched my heart.”   “That was heart-breaking.”  “Consult your heart for the true answer.”

The heart has been of great fascination since Antiquity.  Ancient philosophers and healers have long pondered its functions, mechanisms, and meanings. Although they didn’t agree on all points, they agreed that the heart was central to life.

In 4th century BCE, Greek philosopher Aristotle identified the heart as “the most important organ of the body: a seat of intelligence, motion and sensation, the center of vitality in the body”.  In 2nd century AD, Galen called it: “the organ most closely related to the soul.”  (from a History of the Heart) @: http://www.stanford.edu/class/history13/earlysciencelab/body/heartpages/heart.html )

The Master Nicolaus in the late 12th century observed the heart as “the primary spiritual member of the body,”  the seat of all emotion.  DeLaguna in 1535 wrote:  “If indeed from the heart alone rise anger or passion, fear, terror, and sadness, if from it alone spring shame, delight, and joy…why should I say more?” 

In 1653, English physician William Harvey offered an updated physical explanation of the heart–without challenging metaphysical and spiritual meanings.  “The heart’s one role is the transmission of the blood and its propulsion, by means of the arteries, to the extremities everywhere.”  Harvey also described the heart as “the King” or “Sun” of the body…to depict its connections to the Cosmos.   Harvey’s basic physical interpretations have remained intact.  Renee Descartes took Harvey’s interpretation a step further and described the heart as like a pump, or better yet, a combustion engine.

WHAT is HEART DISEASE?

When we refer to heart disease–we include problems of the heart itself–as well as the whole cardiovascular system: blood pressure, circulation, clotting factors, and blood vessel diseases.

In Western Medicine, the Cardiologist is the specialist for heart problems.  But in Eastern Medicine, heart disease may be viewed differently.

In Chinese Medicine: The Law of Five Elements system, the heart is called The Fire Element.   Physical ailments in this system include:  heart disease, palpitations, rapid or irregular heartbeat, insomnia, mouth and tongue sores, stuttering, vivid or disturbing dreams, a sense of dread, pain along associated acupuncture meridians.   Emotional disorders include: laughing inappropriately, nervous giggling and talking, inability to love, lack of emotional warmth, becoming sexually over-stimulated, craving mind altering substances, becoming emotionally cold/or hot easily.

The acupuncture meridians affected in the FIRE ELEMENT are:  the heart, small intestines, Pericardium, and Triple Warmer.

In Chinese Medicine, one could have too much, or too little FIRE.  Chinese Medicine seeks to bring the body into harmony and balance with a proper flow of energy.  (reference:  “Fire Element-Heart (TCM) @: http://www.agelessherbs.com/fireelement.html )

WHO is AT RISK for HEART DISEASE?

–Some infants are born with heart defects (CONGENITAL), e.g. “a hole in the heart”–that are often fixable.

GENETIC PREDISPOSITION and POSITIVE FAMILY HISTORY

–POOR DIET, NO EXERCISE, POOR SLEEP PATTERNS:  Although we may be born with a genetic predisposition–some diseases can be lessened, or even prevented, with proper attention to diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors.

–UNTREATED HYPERTENSION

INFLAMMATION from cholesterol plaques, untreated gum and dental disease

SMOKING

EMOTIONs and THE HEART:

Did you know that negative emotions can put you at risk for heart disease?

Stressful emotions account for ~30% of all heart attacks, according to a 2004 study of 24,000 people in 53 countries.  Stressful emotions flood the heart with cortisol and adrenaline, as do hypertension and high abdominal fat stores.   Stress hormones also increase clotting time–raising the risk for heart attack.   (article:  “Detox Your Heart:  Negative Emotions like Worry, Frustration, and Sadness Can put you at Risk of Heart Disease” by Catherine Guthrie)

According to Duke University (www.DukeHealth.org) the same brain chemical that influences mood/personality traits like depression and hostility also may influence a person’s risk of heart disease.  Duke psychologist Edward Suarez found that certain individuals under emotional stress–who have low baseline levels of serotonin–showed a rise in an immune system protein known to contribute to heart disease.  However, subjects with high baseline levels of serotonin did not show increased production of these proteins.  These findings explain why individuals who are depressed, aggressive, hostile, and who have low serotonin levels to start with–die more often from heart disease and other illnesses that involve a heightened immune system response.

Both women and men can be adversely or positively affected by emotions, but sometimes in different ways.  According to Dr. Oz, women can feel joys intensely but are also impacted more detrimentally by negative emotions (depression, anger, anxiety, e.g.) than are men.  Dr. Oz states that men’s hearts are not as responsive to emotional stimuli.  “Hurtful emotions can cause a women’s arteries to spasm and close down like a boa constrictor squeezing around its prey.”  Emotions are a more important predictor of heart problems in women.”   (from the book by Dr. Oz:  You: Being Beautiful).

Men and Anger:  A study done by John Hopkins University (April 2002), following 1337 male medical students over 36 years, showed that angry young men are more likely to be angry older men and are at increased risk to develop heart disease.  Anger was described as being quick to anger under stress.   http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/stress/anger.aspx

Anger can lead to heart failure.  A 3-year study done at Mass General  Hospital in Boston showed that individuals more easily prone to anger had a higher chance of experiencing arrhythmias.  “Stress (from anger, e.g.) can increase adrenaline, constrict arteries, increase blood pressure and make blood platelets more sticky.  These symptoms decrease the amount of oxygen getting to the heart and can cause heart disease and ultimately a heart attack.:  (article:  “Anger can Lead to Heart Failure”/American College of Cardiology, Feb 2009)

Anxiety and Worry:  According to Dr. Oz,  “We are all hard-wired to worry.”  This is an old survival mechanism that alerts us to danger.  But in modern times, undue worrying can lead to high blood pressure, increased heart rate and dilated blood vessels.

Grief:  Grief can actually hurt physically in the heart area and create other physical sensations, as well as the emotional ones.  Grief requires:  time to grieve and mourn, acknowledgment of pain, positive self-care (good diet, sleep and relaxation) and professional help if prolonged grief turns into prolonged depression.)

SIGNS of A HEART ATTACK:

It is important to know the symptoms of a heart attack–either for oneself, loved ones and friends, or even for strangers with whom you may cross paths.  Symptoms include:

—Chest pain or discomfort.  Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or chest pain in the center of left side of the chest that can be mild or strong.  This sensation often lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.

Upper body discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach.

–Shortness of breath, which may occur with or before chest discomfort.

Nausea (sick to one’s stomach), vomiting, light-headedness or sudden dizziness, or breaking out in a cold sweat.

–Sleep problems, fatigue/tiredness, and lack of energy.

***IF YOU THINK YOU or SOMEONE ELSE IS HAVING a HEART ATTACK, CALL 911 RIGHT AWAY.  QUICK TREATMENT CAN SAVE LIVES.***

REFERENCES:  www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/heartattack/ 

Women and heart attacks:  Heart attacks are actually the number one killer in women, more than cancer.  Heart attack symptoms may be different for women than men.  Instead of sudden chest pain, they are more likely to experience: nausea and vomiting, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, sweating, pain in the jaw, arm, or back, for example.  See article: “Heart Attacks in Young Women Can be Harder to Detect, Deadlier”, February 2012 Journal of the American Heart Association for more details.  http://heartdisease.about.com/b/2012/02/23/heart-attack-symptoms-are-different-in-women-htm

SPIRITUAL and WISDOM ASPECTS of the HEART:

The heart is often considered a great source of Wisdom.  We can learn ‘to think with ‘A Wise Heart”‘and  ‘A Heart that is True.’

      ***”It is only with the HEART one can see rightly.  What is essential is  invisible to the eye”***      Antoine de Saint-Exupery,  The Little Prince

Many religious and spiritual teachings, in both Eastern and Western traditions, use the HEART as a focal point. 

In western philosophy and religions, the heart is often used as a center for meditation.  Many Christian teachings focus on the compassionate HEART of Christ, with paintings and icons depicting rays of light emanating from the heart.

In Judaism, the Shema (most basic prayer) states:  “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your HEART and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

In Native American teachings, THE HEART is powerful.  “Know that your heart has many dimensions.  It is the source of great feeling and consciousness and is interconnected with the heart of every other living being.  Know that your heart is one with the Heart of Mother Earth, the Heart of Grandfather Sun and the Universal Heart of the Creator.  It is through awareness of this connection that we are able to know and experience our infinite source of creativity, energy, passion,and love.”   ( http://www.earthspiritmedicine.net/html/Meditations_4.html )

In Eastern models, the heart is viewed as both a physical organ, as well as a spiritual organ and a center of Energy. 

In Buddhist teachings:  The summation of the Wisdom of the Buddha is contained in the HEART Sutra (spiritual writings).  And the Vinaya order of life is the HEART that keeps Buddhism healthy.  This practice pumps the life-giving blood of self-discipline and awareness to the entire community.

In Hinduism,  Sanskrit Chants are often used to heal the HEART.

Many yoga classes finish by placing one’s hands over the HEART CENTER, lips to fingertips.  Holding this gesture and infusing it with the intention of union–allows for a shift to take place within our mind and heart.  (creating an expansion of the heart to reach out to the Universe and all created life.)

HEART HEALTHY RECOMMENDATIONS:

If you need medical and/or surgical attention, be sure to follow through with your physicians.

For general prevention, a heart healthy diet and lifestyle can decrease your risk for cardiovascular heart disease (CAD).

NOTE:  For those with already existing risk factors, some interventions can significantly turn your risk factors around for the better.  (see work of Dean Ornish, MD)

  • SMOKING:  If you smoke, stop.  Avoid second-hand smoke as much as possible.
  • DIET:

—Eat breakfast daily.

—Choose a high fiber diet with lots of green vegetables, high fiber beans, colorful fruits like berries.  Whole Grains (vs refined ones) nuts, nut butters, seeds and seed butters.   1.5-2 cups fruits/day and 2.5-4 cups vegetables/day.   3-5  ounces whole grains each day.

Choose lean animal proteins such as fish, skinless turkey and chicken, free-range lean organic meats.  Choose organic eggs from free-range chickens.

Limit the saturated fats and cholesterol in high fat dairy products, red meats and high fat deli meats, as well as in synthesized vegetable fats that are high in trans fatty acids.  (e.g., Crisco)

Limit sugars and highly processed starches, laden with preservatives.

Limit salt (sodium chloride).  No salt shaker.  Recommended sodium for the day: 2300 mg/day for younger healthy folks and no more than 1500 mg per day for those over 51, African-Americans, and anyone who has diabetes, hypertension, or chronic kidney disease.

Read labels.  At restaurants, review menus carefully.  Avoid cream and cheese sauces, fried foods.  Limit rich desserts (or share one for the table!)

Possible Nutrition Supplements include:

Omega 3 fatty acids:  1000-2000 mg/day from fish oils and vegan omega sources.   Fiber supplements if one’s diet is low in fiber (25-35+ grams fiber /day), CoQ10 (200 mg/day) for those taking statin medications, Magnesium (250-500 mg/day) if labs indicate low magnesium and diet is low in magnesium, Vitamin D for overall health if Vitamin D is low (1000-2000 IU/day–normal supplemental level).   5-HTP (5-Hydroxytrptophan), 20-100 mg/day (a naturally occurring amino acid and precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin) to help lift depression.

                               SPEAK to YOUR MD before adding supplements.

 

  • BRUSH YOUR TEETH and FLOSS 2x per day because some bacteria, and other microscopic critters that live in the mouth,  can cause inflammatory problems for  the heart and blood vessels.
  • EXERCISE:

It is important to stay physically active and exercise the heart.  The American Heart Association suggests 150 minutes/week of moderate activity, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity.  30 minutes per day 5x/week is a good goal.

–If you have a heart condition, consult with your MD or Cardiologist before embarking on a strenuous program.

  • Nurture positive, loving, fulfilling relationships.
  • SLEEP 7-8 hours per day is the recommended amount for most adults
  • RELAXATION and STRESS REDUCTION:   Find ways to relax on a regular basis: meditation, cat naps, music, becoming engrossed in a hobby you love, being in Nature.

—Smell a rose, hug a loved one, smile at your neighbor, a pet or a stranger.

—Remember to hug yourself daily.

—Take a walk.  Even 10 minutes can help.

—Break down problems into smaller parts to cope better.

—Say I’m sorry if you’ve made a mistake.

—Forgive someone else for making a mistake.

—Set your watch 5-10 minutes ahead to avoid the stress of being late.

—Count to 10 before you speak if you are feeling angry or pissed off.

—Take 3-5 deep breaths several times/day.

—Walk away from a stressful situation and say you’ll handle it later. (give yourself the opportunity to sort things out before you take action, or choose not to take action.)

Find ways to deal with difficult emotions.  Seek professional help if you are stuck.

—Use positive self-talk in frustrating situations.

–Honor the wisdom of your heart in decision-making (heart plus head).  “When you honor the wisdom of your heart, then you act from the core of your being.”  (from article:  “Listen up!  Why Being in Your Heart is Better Than in Your Head” by Ed and Deb Shapiro.

—Take all medications as prescribed.  Consult MD before making changes.

—SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP IF YOU FEEL CHRONICALLY DEPRESSED or IF YOU FEEL YOU NEED STRATEGIES to MOVE FORWARD. 

—FIND YOUR PASSION and LIVE with PURPOSE!

—LAUGH DAILY!!!   Find something to lift your spirits if feeling blue!

***Forgiveness is the economy of the HEART….Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.”       by Hannah More

We wish you Goodness, Peace, Happiness, and Heart-FULL-ness.

The Wellness Shifter Ladies!

Deb and Wendy

REFERENCES:

Article:  “Detox your Heart:  Negative Emotions Like Worry, Frustration, and Sadness Can Put you at Risk of Heart Disease.  Learn How to Protect Your most Vital Organ.”  by Catherine Guthrie.   Go to:  http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_mONAH/is_2_39/ai_n31215701

BOOKS:  Ornish, Dean, MD:  Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease.   Ornish: Stress, Diets and Your Heart;   Sanders, Bonnie:  Cleveland Clinic Healthy Heart and Lifestyle Guide and Cookbook 

Websites:  www.goredforwomen.org ; www.hearthealthywomen.org; www.heart.org (American Heart Association), www.nhlbi.nih.gov/; www.pmri.org/dean_ornish.html

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