Energy Medicine

The heart is an organ whose functioning is enhanced by joy, appreciation and passion. The six basic emotions we need to recognize and respond to, in order to create heart health are: love, joy, anger, sadness, fear and shame. If you are able to feel your emotions fully and let them flow through you, the vessel-constricting biochemical effect of negative emotions on your cardiovascular system will be minimal, while the effect of positive emotions opens the vessels, optimizing blood flow and nourishing your tissues. (Remember—all emotions have a purpose and are important.)

Some women experience heart symptoms related to emotions such as panic, fear, and depression. Learning to work with your emotions allows you to live fully, communicate with others, and become motivated to make needed changes in your life. Biofeedback or cognitive behavioral therapy can help dramatically with these symptoms, as can several supplements that support heart health.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading killer of postmenopausal women. In women over fifty-five, estrogen deficiency has been commonly thought to be a significant cause of heart disease. In the famous women nurse's study, however, researchers found that if a woman had very few risk factors for heart disease to begin with, estrogen therapy did not significantly impact her survival rate. Estrogen does have some independent beneficial effect on the blood vessels of the heart themselves, but there are no grounds for believing that estrogen replacement is essential for the prevention of heart disease in all women, as so many other variables are involved.

Among the many other characteristics that create a risk of heart disease, chief is increased insulin resistance, which is present to some degree in 50 to 75 percent of women in the United States. An enormous amount of data exists on the link between nutrition and heart disease, particularly with regard to the ill effects of excess insulin and the benefits of antioxidants. A 1997 study demonstrated that a diet too high in carbohydrates and too low in fat was likely to increase the risk of heart disease because of its adverse effects on lipids and insulin. The authors concluded that given their results, "it seems reasonable to question the wisdom of recommending that postmenopausal women consume low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets" (see Reference 1, link below). If you have any personal or family history of heart disease, I'd recommend following the dietary recommendations in the following books: Protein Power by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades; The Schwarzbein Principle books by Dr. Diana Schwarzbein; and The Sugar Addict's Total Recovery Program by Kathleen DesMaisons.

The high rate of heart disease in our society is related to a lifestyle that includes high consumption of trans-fatty acids (including hydrogenated oils) and refined carbohydrates, combined with inadequate exercise and protein, all of which sets the stage for an eicosanoid imbalance at the cellular level, creating a predisposition to hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease (see Reference 2, link below). By contrast, a diet that contains fish oil has been found to reduce the incidence of heart disease in a number of studies. In fact, a recent study found definitive evidence that the risk of fatal heart attack in men is inversely related to the amount of fish consumed in their diet, because of the beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system of omega–3 fatty acids found in fish oil. The same results would probably hold true for women, as well. I'd recommend two servings of sardines, mackerel, salmon, or swordfish per week (see Reference 3, link below). If you are a vegetarian or do not care for these fish, consuming high-quality flax seed can be beneficial. Another option is to take DHA, a specific type of highly beneficial omega–3 fat, as a supplement made from algae.

In general, a diet that is neither too high nor too low in fat and relatively low in carbohydrates should be encouraged for anyone with a family history of diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease.

Weight-bearing exercise can also be very helpful because it lowers insulin resistance dramatically. It increases lean muscle, and because lean muscle mass has a higher metabolic rate than fat, it helps to burn excess body fat and thus lower the risk of heart disease. Women who perform such exercise live an average of six years longer than those who do not.

While the role of diet, exercise, and supplementation is important, understanding the language of the heart is the most important way for you to prevent or recover from heart disease. A healthy and functioning cardiovascular system is inextricably related to the regular expression of joy, and creativity, and in the end, free expression of a full range of emotions may be the best prevention for heart disease.


Further Reading:

For discussion regarding The Midlife Heart, visit the site's Menopause section. Extensive coverage of midlife heart health can be found in my book, The Wisdom of Menopause, Chapter 14, "Living with Heart, Passion, and Joy: How to Listen to and Love Your Midlife Heart."

In addition, I have written about heart health in past issues of my monthly newsletter, Health Wisdom for Women: August '00, pp. 4–8; July '00, p. 3; April '00, pp. 6–8; February '00, pp. 7–8; January '00, pp. 1–3; May '99, p. 3; March '99, pp. 3, 6–7; February '99, p. 2.

For more information on "heart thinking," see Health Wisdom for Women, April '96, p. 5.

For more information on heart disease, see Health Wisdom for Women, January '00, p. 2; May '99, pp. 2–5; January '99, p. 7; December '97, pp. 4–6; October '97, pp. 3–6; August '97, pp. 1–4; January '95, p. 1; November '94, p. 6.



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