They say that time heals all wounds – but when it comes to the heart, that may not always be the case.
We talk a lot about our hearts breaking when a relationship ends or someone close to us dies.
But did you know that when your heart breaks figuratively, it also can be breaking literally? And you can feel just like you’re having a heart attack, without having ANY blockages in any of the arteries of your heart.
A stressful, sad, or emotionally taxing event can cause the muscular part of your heart to swell for a period of time and, as they say, ‘break’.
It’s a medical condition called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, nicknamed ‘broken heart syndrome’. The heart muscle is stunned by some tragic event and is not able to beat properly and effectively.
Takotsubo is the Japanese term for a fishing pot used for trapping an octopus – which is exactly what the heart looks like when the top part of the heart’s left side contracts differently than the bottom part.
Broken heart cases skyrocketing
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy initially feels identical to a heart attack. The symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, irregular heartbeat, nausea, and vomiting, as well as fatigue.
A few years ago, people used to be told that it was ‘all in their head’ and were sent home – when, in fact, they’d had a serious, life-threatening health event.
However, this syndrome is becoming much more recognised and diagnosed. A July 2015 study showed that the number of reported cases grew from 315 in 2006 to 6,230 in 2012 – probably because technology and testing at the time of hospital admission is more sensitive now than it used to be.
The good news is that the basic blood tests and ECG that all respectable Accident & Emergency departments will conduct will usually pick up the seriousness of this event.
When stress can be a real heartbreaker
The bad news is that there’s not much that modern medicine can do to prevent an occurrence of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or a repeat episode of it.
Interestingly, most of the patients that are diagnosed with it have less of the common risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. And interestingly, about 90 per cent of patients who suffer from Takotsubo cardiomyopathy are postmenopausal women.
And the common factor among them? They’re usually anxious, and have high levels of adrenaline in their blood.
Therefore, reducing stress and anxiety is important – especially since a recent New England Journal of Medicine article showed that blood pressure medications don’t do a thing to prevent a reoccurrence of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
But the good news is that there are natural ways to heal your heart from Takotsubo cardiomyopathy and to keep it from striking again.
This is how you mend a broken heart
A few years ago, a patient came to me for this exact purpose. She wanted to recover from her recent Takotsubo cardiomyopathy ‘heart attack’, which occurred after a sudden and horrific car accident. Within minutes after the accident, she’d started having severe chest pain and was rushed to the hospital.
The blood tests and an ECG confirmed that she’d had a heart ‘attack’, but the angiogram (putting dye through the arteries of the heart) showed that her arteries were crystal clear. So, she was diagnosed with this condition.
The cardiologist prescribed some basic medications, but he told her that the only way to help her and to help prevent another attack was to reduce her stress and anxiety levels. Of course, he didn’t tell her how to do that, and he sent her to a ‘shrink’.
In fact, the main reason that she came to me was that she couldn’t tolerate any of the normal antidepressants or anxiety medications – and they didn’t work for her, anyway.
So in my office, we began by trying to improve her heart function. The heart is a muscle, and so I treat Takotsubo cardiomyopathy as I would any other muscular problem. I had her start exercising slowly because I wanted the heart muscle to regain strength.
I also asked her to take magnesium and CoQ10 as well as ribose because I wanted to make sure the mitochondria of her heart were as strong as possible. That way, they’d be able to not only repair from the event (that is, ‘fix’ her broken heart) but also strengthen her heart so that an event like this wouldn’t reoccur.
We also used amino acids and herbs to bolster her brain chemistry and help her deal with her excessive stress levels, as well as weekly acupuncture sessions to reduce her nervous system overdrive.
Finally, I sent her to a practitioner who taught her how to do some basic meditation.
And you know what? She is like a ‘new person’, as she says, with a much better understanding of how stress affects her heart and health. She has the power over her mind and body to be able to deal with any big or small stressors that come her way.
Your heart is talking to you… so be sure to listen to it!
You need to take a proactive stance with your heart health – but even if you’re at a normal weight, eating healthily, and not showing any signs of cardiovascular disease, you could still be at risk for Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
You should always take chest pain seriously. Even if your doctor says that your heart is fine, if you have serious chest pain or pressure, please go to your local A&E. They should be able to determine what’s really going on.
You can’t avoid getting bad news… or dealing with life’s (sometimes extreme) ups and downs… but there are many holistic ways to help you deal with severe stress before it affects your heart.
One of the best ways is to receive acupuncture therapy from a qualified practitioner. The British Acupuncture Council can help you find an acupuncturist in your area (www.acupuncture. org.uk)
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Vol. 10, Issue 3 • March 2016
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.