We’re all familiar with the movie scene in which the overly aggressive executive is just about to close a deal only to be stopped by a heart attack. Stress is a killer. But until recently, when it came to cardiovascular disease, scientists weren’t quite sure how the link between stress and cardiovascular disease actually worked. Now a new study is shedding some light on the issue.
It seems that there may be a direct link between biochemical activity in the brain and arterial inflammation. Arterial inflammation, as I’m sure you know, is a great predictor of whether a heart attack or stroke is imminent.
The researchers uncovered this link by examining the PET/CT scans of 293 patients who underwent the tests to screen for cancer, but were found to be cancer-free. Using this data allowed the researchers to evaluate brain activity, bone marrow, and arteries. A participant’s data were not included if he or she had displayed evidence of cancer, had cardiovascular disease, or was not at least 30 years old. Radiologists who knew nothing about the specific patients then evaluated the images. In particular, they compared activity in the amygdala, where the stress response occurs, to activity in other brain areas.
The researchers adjusted the results for age, gender, and other cardiovascular factors. Once they did this, they still found that for every unit the measure of brain stress activity went up, the risk of cardiovascular events went up 14 times. In fact, over the next five years, 35% of the participants who were identified to be high-stress experienced a cardiovascular event, compared to only 5% of the low-stress group.
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Not only was the brain activity increasing arterial inflammation, it was stimulating bone marrow to release immune cells as well. These immune cells, called monocytes, also can trigger inflammation. Combined, this can be a recipe for a heart attack. In fact, the researchers concluded that stress can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease just as much as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can. However, when it comes to reducing risk, reducing stress is often treated as a nice suggestion, but one that may not need to be taken seriously.
I think it’s vital that we take steps to reduce stress, just like we would if we found out we had high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Of course, I don’t want this to turn into yet another excuse for doctors to prescribe medication. There are plenty of natural steps you can take to lower stress. Exercising is one of the best, and it will provide your heart and entire cardiovascular system with additional benefits. Another one is meditation.
I discuss this in my book Bursting With Energy, but the long and short of it is this. Sit in a chair in a place where you won’t be distracted. Close your eyes and concentrate your brain on focusing on your breathing. In a very short period of time, you’re going to realize that you have lost your focus and have been thinking about something else. As soon as you notice this, bring your focus back to your breathing. Meditation consists of focusing on your breathing, losing your focus, and re-focusing. Do this for only 10 minutes a day, and within six weeks, your stress levels will be significantly down. And there’s one other thing that’s remarkably effective.
It's adaptogens. Adaptogens are a very special class of herbs that contain substances that protect our bodies from the effects of stress. I put the three most powerful adaptogens, ginseng, ashwaganda, and cordyceps in the same doses that are so effective in the studies in my Advanced Adrenal Factor. I take two every morning just as a matter of course.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD