The heart is like the refrigerator of all our inner appliances; you always want it running and to never break down, turn off or be unplugged.
Recently, however, this has been quite a challenge, especially for many women during the pandemic. Not only in our nation but also across the world, women have been suffering from stress cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome. The condition mostly affects women because physiologically a woman's response to stress is different than a man’s. Research shows that under mental stress, men and women experience totally different changes in blood pressure and blood flow, which might account for the disproportionate rates of stress cardiomyopathy among women.
Researchers at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, Johns Hopkins, and Cleveland Clinic have said broken heart syndrome is a serious emotional stress-induced heart condition that has surged during the pandemic. This syndrome is a weakening of the left ventricle, almost like a temporary unplugging, that is usually the result of severe stress, often preceded by an intense emotional (or physical) event – including the COVID-19 infection.
Stress affects the body in a lot of ways. For instance, you might get a tension headache after a long day, or, if you're under long-term stress, you're more likely to develop high blood pressure or even problems with your arteries. According to cardiologist Sharonne N. Hayes, M.D., founder of the Women's Heart Clinic in Rochester, MN “Stress hormones can cause blood vessels in the heart to spasm; they're not permanently blocked, but they can restrict blood flow and cause the heart muscle to be injured.” She says “there is a very strong mind-heart connection. If we don't deal with our stress and worry, we can't heal our hearts”.
Those with broken heart syndrome may have sudden chest pain or think they're having a heart attack. It affects just part of the heart, temporarily disrupting the heart's usual pumping function. The rest of the heart continues to work properly or may even squeeze (contract) more forcefully. Luckily, the symptoms of broken heart syndrome are treatable, and it usually reverses itself in a few weeks if treated properly.
Taking steps to manage emotional stress can improve heart health and help prevent broken heart syndrome. In honor of American Heart Month, here are some ways to stay heart healthy:
- Manage stress!
- First start with a Nutrition and Lifestyle Plan. Our plans guide you into the details of everyday health with the right nutrition and lifelong healthy habits. Each plan comes with personalized meal plans, go-to lists, recipes, motivation journal and so much more. Compliment it with a counseling session to address anxiety and other issues you may be dealing with. Explore our plans and get yours today.
- Eat more veggies & fruit
- Vegetables and fruits are low in calories, rich in dietary fiber, and contain substances found in plants that help prevent cardiovascular disease. Eating more fruits and vegetables also helps you eat less high-fat foods.
- Choose whole grains
- Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. When choosing breads, look for the first word on the label to say ‘whole’ and make sure for every 10 grams of carbs you’re getting at least 1 gram of fiber.
- Choose healthy fats and limit saturated fats
- Limiting saturated fats will help to reduce blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary artery disease. A high blood cholesterol level can lead to a buildup of plaques in your arteries, called atherosclerosis, which can increase your risk. Choose healthy fats such as olive oil & avocados. Avocados are a good fat and very satiating. Eating just one half of an avocado with a meal can decrease appetite by 40% over a 3 hour span.
- Choose lean proteins
- Protein is needed for a good amount of vitamins and iron. Protein should be lean and can include fish like salmon which is high in calcium, vitamin D, & DHA and halibut which is high in magnesium, lean meats with fat trimmed off, skinless poultry, nut butters, nuts, seeds, and beans. Use an iron skillet when cooking selected proteins; it helps add iron to your body more efficiently.
- Reduce sodium
- Much of the salt you eat comes from canned or processed foods, such as soups and frozen dinners; as well as certain condiments. Eating fresh foods and making your own soups and stews can reduce the amount of salt you eat. If you like the convenience of canned soups and prepared meals, look for ones with reduced sodium.
- Plan meals & snacks
- When doing weekly grocery shopping, plan ahead; choose seasonal foods to cook and snack on; make on-the-go snacks ahead to be prepared when hunger strikes so you’re less inclined to stop at a fast food place or a vending machine.
- Stay balanced
- Allow yourself to enjoy a favorite food or indulgence once in a while without it turning into an excuse to sabotage your overall routine. Balance is the key to staying on track for a healthy heart and a healthy, happy life.