Heart Disease – with a Spotlight on Broken Heart Syndrome

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the term used to include all the diseases of the heart and circulation, including coronary heart disease (CHD), angina, heart attack, congenital heart disease, and stroke

The Heart and Stroke Foundation designated young adults as the newest at-risk group for heart disease in Canada

There are several risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease including: increasing age, smoking, alcohol, stress, hypertension, abnormal lipids, metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes. Waist to hip ratio is a better heart attack predictor for heart attack than obesity. 

Poor diet, smoking, excess alcohol, and LACK of exercise are main contributors to these risk factors. 

However, a national study has shown that nearly 75 percent of patients hospitalized for a heart attack had cholesterol levels that would indicate they were not at high risk for a heart event. Other research has shown that 25% of people with heart attacks had no risk factors.

Most people are aware of some of the common risk factors for CVD but there are less recognized contributors including emotional stress, inflammation, and thyroid function.

Emotional Stress and Inflammation

Emotions associated with stress are important risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The Mayo Clinic reported that the strongest risk factor for future cardiac event among individuals with existing coronary artery disease (CAD) is psychological – stressful emotions like anger, anxiety, and worry dramatically increased the risk.

People who are prone to these emotions have increased production of the stress hormones that activate the inflammatory arm of the immune system, triggering chronic inflammation, characterized by high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP.) The study showed that these people had 2–3 times higher CRP levels than their calmer counterparts. 

Spotlight on Stress Cardiomyopathy – broken heart syndrome

Stress cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome, occurs in response to physical or emotional distress and causes dysfunction or failure in the heart muscle. People typically experience symptoms like a heart attack, but usually do not have acutely blocked coronary arteries.

Researchers have found a significant increase in patients experiencing broken heart syndrome, during the current pandemic that is causing multiple levels of stress in people’s lives. Individually worrying about themselves, family members becoming ill, financial stressors, emotional issues that can include depression, anxiety, with potential loneliness and isolation. These all have physical effects on our bodies and our hearts, as evidenced by the increasing diagnoses of stress cardiomyopathy. 

Inflammation and atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is caused by fatty deposits in the arteries because of abnormal lipid levels combined with inflammation. The fatty ‘plaques’ cause a narrowing of the arteries which increases the risk of blockage. The inflammation occurs as a response to various stressors including mental, emotional, or physical stress, pathogens, and various toxins, 

In addition, the level of diversity of the ‘good bacteria’ in our digestive systems has been found to be linked to atherosclerosis. Researchers found that women with atherosclerosis have lower gut microbial diversity – women with healthier arteries have more diversity. The research concludes that cardiovascular risk that is not explained by the usual risk factors could include analyzing the health of the gut microbiome.

Atherosclerotic lesions can remain asymptomatic for years or progress into disease stages where clinical manifestations such as angina, heart attack, or stroke.

Thyroid disorders and CVD

The cardiovascular signs and symptoms of thyroid disease are some of the most profound and clinically relevant findings that accompany both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. 

It is well known that patients with untreated hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism often develop heart problems because of thyroid hormone. For example, the most common cardiovascular signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) include blood pressure changes, alterations in lipid metabolism, decreased cardiac output, accelerated atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease, and increased stroke risk. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) resulting from excess thyroid hormone, is associated with palpitations, increased heart rate, exercise intolerance, shortness of breath and sometimes atrial fibrillation. 

It is important to as your health care practitioner for lab tests to monitor thyroid function. 

Tips for a Healthy Heart

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) deficiency has been identified in 50–75% of heart tissue biopsies in patients with various heart conditions. Research has shown its efficacy in the treatment of high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, angina, congestive heart failure, and cardiomyopathy. It seems to work better when taken with vitamin E. Note: it is particularly important if a person is taking a statin drug, which can reduce the body’s production of CoQ10 by 40%.   

Magnesium: Studies have indicated 53% of patients in hospital cardiac units were magnesium deficient. Magnesium deficiency increases inflammation and causes imbalances in sodium and potassium, lead to arrhythmias, and arterial vasospasm. 

Hawthorn is effective for hypertension, reducing cholesterol (LDL and triglycerides), and preventing atherosclerosis and heart disease.

Garlic reduces cardiovascular diseases by lowering blood pressure and increasing levels of antioxidant enzymes.

Prevent/Treat Inflammation: Boswellia, curcumin, and cayenne are effective for inflammation which is intimately involved in all stages of atherosclerosis, and heart disease. 

Stress support: Herbs such as Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha, and rhodiola help reduce the negative effects of stress such as increased inflammation.  Siberian ginseng has also been found to reduce cardiovascular disease.

Probiotics and Prebiotics help support healthy gut microbiome which is important for a healthy immune system, overall health and a healthy heart. 

~ The friendly staff at the Vitamin Shop can help you chose with the right heart support combination~

Diet and Exercise

DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. Both emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and moderate alcohol intake. The Mediterranean diet was ranked as the easiest to follow. In addition to weight loss, the Mediterranean diet has been linked to a reduction in various diseases, including heart disease 

Fresh AIR and Exercise

2018 guidelines: EXERCISE MATTERS – ANY LITTLE THING YOU DO– AND believe it or not, it does not need to be intense. 

The most important message on exercise is that the greatest benefits result from changing from none to even small amounts of physical activity. Even brief bouts of physical exercise are beneficial and there is not a specific time threshold of benefit. Once a person starts moving more, most can and will easily build up to 75-150 minutes a week as time goes by.  

In the world today, where stressors of all kinds are continually increasing, it becomes even more important to be more proactive and take steps to maintain a healthy heart. 


Karen Jensen was in clinical practice for 25 years and although she is retired, she continues to write books and educate on the naturopathic approach to wellness. She is author or co-author of seven books, her most recent is Women’s Health Matters: The Influence of Gender on Disease.

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