A revolutionary new understanding of what actually causes a heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI) is emerging from the latest scientific research. It turns out that activities which stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system like meditation, being in nature, and loving relationships are more important than watching your cholesterol when it comes to preventing a heart attack.
The old theory as to the cause of MI was centered on what was happening in the coronary arteries, while the new theory centers on events happening within the heart itself. For the past 50 or so years, blockage of coronary arteries by plaque buildup was thought to cut off blood supply to certain parts of the heart causing pain (angina) then progressing to ischemia. Treatments such as stents and bypass surgeries addressed these blockages. However, a 2003 study at Mayo Clinic concluded that while bypass surgery may relieve symptoms such as chest pain, it does not prevent further heart attacks. It turns out that the body is very effective in compensating for blockages with collateral blood vessels, so the blocked arteries are not causing heart attacks. Many in cardiology are turning to “unstable plaque” as the culprit and putting patients on Statin drugs, but that theory has been debunked as well. While acute thrombosis related to plaque is associated with myocardial infarction, it looks like it occurs after the MI a significant amount of the time, so is not the cause of MI.
Until recently the role of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in the genesis of ischemia had been overlooked. This is the part of our nervous system that controls the function of our internal organs. It is divided into 2 parts: the sympathetic – fight or flight – system which is activated when danger is detected and the parasympathetic – rest and digest – system which slows and relaxes the heart through activation of the vagus nerve. The majority of heart disease results from an imbalance between these 2 branches of the ANS. Heart monitoring has demonstrated that parasympathetic activity is reduced by 33% on average in patients with ischemic heart disease, and the worse the ischemia, the lower the parasympathetic activity. Increases in the sympathetic nervous system do not cause MI without there first being a reduction in the parasympathetic activity. We are hardwired to handle periods of intense stress, as long as we have been regenerating ourselves with parasympathetic activities – meditation, being in nature, sex, loving relationships. All of these activities increase the activity of the vagal nerve that relaxes the heart. Hypertension, smoking, stress, and diabetes all decrease the activity of the vagal nerve. So all major, known risk factors reduce the activity of the regenerative nervous system of the heart.
So RELAX, have some FUN, and LOVE – it is good for your heart!!!