By now you’ve heard it all—boost your heart health with omega-3s and CoQ10, keep your cholesterol low, watch your blood pressure. Even if you’re vigilant about taking the right supplements and watching what you eat, there’s another major factor in your heart health: stress.
“When we’re under stress our heart rate increases, our blood pressure goes up and we secrete cortisol,” says Erin Stokes, naturopathic doctor at our South Boulder store. “All of that can be hard on your cardiovascular system.”
Indeed, a 2010 study at the University of Western Ontario showed that increased cortisol levels, a good marker of chronic stress, were directly correlated to a higher incidence of heart attacks. So how to keep cortisol in check?
“Meditation, getting adequate sleep and proper nutrition are all essential,” says Erin. “But you may also want to consider working on replenishing your adrenal glands.”
When we experience the fight-or-flight response, which often happens as we drive busy roads or come up against tight deadlines at work, the adrenals secrete cortisol. Over time they become depleted, and the result is not only a feeling of exhaustion, it’s also stress on the cardiovascular system. “In this day and age almost all of us have some level of adrenal fatigue,” says Erin.
To lower the physiological effects of stress, she first recommends some long-term adrenal support in the form of Ashwaganda, and especially likes Gaia Herbs organic formulation that offers quick delivery to your system. Another formula is Vital Adapt from Natura, which she likes because it supports the adrenals, the thyroid, and the nervous system all at once. For moderate levels of stress, these formulations can help relieve symptoms of adrenal fatigue in just a few weeks. For people experiencing more intense chronic stress, it could take months.
That’s why it’s also good to look for short-term help. “Sometimes when people are working on adrenal health they need support in the moment,” says Erin. That’s when she recommends supplements that can help reduce situational anxiety. For example, for people experiencing panic attacks, Erin usually recommends GABA. For more low-grade anxiety, L-Theanine is a better fit. She also really likes the Emotional Ally formulation from WishGarden Herbs. Ultimately, it’s best to speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about your symptoms so they can help you find the right support.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to slow down once in awhile, too. A 1991 study from Thailand found that men who practiced Dhammakaya Buddhist meditation had much lower cortisol levels, lower blood pressure and higher stress reaction time than those who did not meditate. Seems like all of our hearts could use a little om.
Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about heart-health-boosting supplements, stress-relieving herbs and all the other ways to support your heart.