After talking about all types of irregular rhythms, blood clots, heart failure and the multiple ways our hearts tell us they’re sick (including how anger alone can hurt it) we should be talking about chronic stress and your heart.
But this word “stress” is so overused today that most people hardly pay attention to it.
So, it’s time to introduce some new words, the kind that matter the most to your heart.
First, meet the following:
These are all hormones your body releases when you face a psychological or physical challenge.
These are the chemicals that play a major role in the type of inflammation that damages cells and brings on even more problems to your ailing body.
- Every time something happens that makes you suddenly feel scared, pressured, angered, or frustrated, your body releases a brigade of chemicals that lead to the inflammation.
And this is why we’re talking about chronic stress and your heart.
But there’s now a better understanding of why and how stress damages your heart.
The first thing you need to know is that there’s a second type of stress that’s even worse than the one you feel, say when someone insults you.
It could be financial problems, awful bosses, children that are out of control, stressful driving distances, resentment about politics or a pervasive sense of insecurity about your life.
What we’ve learned is that chronic stress ages you cell by cell. Yes, one cell at a time.
- It does this by literally shortening a part of the cell called a telomere.
Telomeres are little “caps” found on the end of the cell’s chromosomes. They help keep the chromosomes stable, just like the cap on a pen keeps the ink from leaking.
However, every time a chromosome unzips to make copies of its genetic material so that the cell can divide, the telomere gets a tiny bit shorter.
- The shorter the telomere gets, the worse the cell functions.
Studies link these shrinking telomeres to several age-related conditions, including high blood pressure and cholesterol, insulin resistance, and early death, primarily from infections and heart disease.
Telomeres get some help in maintaining their length from an enzyme called telomerase, (which is released by the immune system cells).
Telomerase “builds up” telomeres after they copy themselves, and keeps the cell alive longer and functioning better.
The problem is that eventually, the telomere gets so short it disappears, and the cell self-destructs and dies.
Which brings us back to talking about chronic stress and your heart.
And now, the new discovery is that chronic psychological stress can shrink telomeres the same way hot water shrinks wool.
And it seems that chronic stress also lowers the amount of telomerase released by the immune system.
It’s a vicious cycle. The less telomerase you have, the bigger your body’s response to stress, then even more inflammatory chemical is released.
These findings are important because they show how psychological issues like stress have a harmful effect on our cells.
But…the findings have also provided important good news:
The trigger is how you perceive stress, rather than the real cause of the stress, that leads to the harm.
Which brings us all the way back to how the whole discussion about hearts and heart disease started on this website…
The Body-Mind-Spirit Connection.
Isn’t it time we all we all spent some time learning and talking about chronic stress and your heart?