Happy Heart Day
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and whether or not you partake in the festivities, I find that this holiday is a good opportunity to celebrate the human heart. This day celebrates love and the heart symbol pervades everything from chocolate candies to greeting cards. The heart is an organ that has fascinated physicians as early as Hippocrates. Although modern medicine has made great strides in understanding the heart’s physiology and function, there are certain complexities that even modern medicine cannot decode. For example, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine the heart houses our “shen” or spirit. It is the seat of our consciousness, mental health and vitality. If the heart is not being nourished properly, it not only affects the physical health but also the emotional health of an individual.
This is a rather profound concept; one that does not really exist in the western medical construct but that has validity. Even everyday figures of speech exemplify this idea as in “a broken heart,” or “heart of stone.” These imply the emotional aspect of the heart. It makes sense then that to have a truly “healthy heart” a person should take measures to promote both the physical and emotional health of the heart.
Practicing self-awareness is one of the most pro-active ways to support emotional heart health. Often times we create unnecessary stress for ourselves by over extending our personal resources. Simple things such as setting boundaries and knowing how to say “No” can help reduce the feelings of overwhelm. Meditation practices (guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation or breathing exercises) are also ways to mitigate stress and help to refocus from a state of worry to one of serenity.
The old adage of “laughter is the best medicine” is certainly true in this context. Laughter stimulates relaxation of the body and helps to relieve physical tension and stress. Laughter can also boost immunity by reducing stress hormones, which can have negative impacts on our health. Believe it or not, laughter benefits circulation by improving the function of blood vessels. Lastly, laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which are chemicals that help to enhance the feelings of well-being and pain relief. Laughter also helps us to connect with others increasing intimacy and feelings of happiness.
There are a variety of steps that one can take to promote the physical health of his or her heart such as exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco use and limiting alcohol consumption as well as eating a balanced diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates and lean meats. There are also many supplements that can benefit the heart such as CoQ10, Taurine, Carnitine and essential fatty acids.
A type of essential fatty acids that has been the subject of study is Omega-3. Omega-3’s (EPA-DHA) have shown to reduce inflammation both systemically and in the vasculature thereby helping to prevent atherosclerosis. Additionally, Omega-3s decrease the risk of arrhythmia, decrease triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, and lastly reduce the risk of stroke and heart failure by decreasing blood clotting.
Omega-3 rich food sources include seafood (salmon, trout, tuna, sardines, herring), walnuts, flaxseeds, enriched eggs and grass-fed meat (beef, bison). There are also supplements that provide therapeutic doses of EPA-DHA; however, there are a variety of considerations when purchasing such a supplement like purity (molecularly distilled for heavy metals and contaminants), freshness, bioavailability and sustainable harvesting practices. For further guidance and instruction on finding an EPA-DHA supplement feel free to ask one of the helpful and knowledgeable physicians at Arizona Natural Medicine!