Heart Disease: A short review

Heart Disease by. Leslie Stangler

for Dr Mummaugh at AAAOM

Dec. 3, 2016

It  seems there are more heart attacks on a Monday morning when people are arising to go to work, which is a stressful event for most of us. This brings up many questions for me. Does stress impair cardiovascular health, as the saying goes, stress kills?  It is known that heart disease is more common for women than men, why is this ? Is heart disease related to brain disease, such as Alzheimer’s?  It is my goal to find the connection between stress, heart disease, and brain health from recent research articles and share those findings with you.

It is important for me to include a bit on TCM; for this healing modality is no longer considered alternative or complementary but a mainstream method for health and healing for all people everywhere. Every person has a mind, body, and spirit; the body is interconnected, and when one is not in balance the others suffer right alone with it, this is holism. In this short 5 page paper, I will discuss heart disease, what are the causes of heart disease, how heart disease and brain health are connected, what are symptoms of heart disease, and include a tidbit on eastern philosophy of heart disease. First, I will get to the root cause of most illness, stress.

Stress and heart disease.

Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances” (Mosby’s Dictionary, 2009).  As we learned in class, the bodies natural response to stress is fight or flight, and the body begins to release the hormones such as adrenaline and epinephrine to stimulate the body into the fight or flight response (Elaine Marieb, 2011, p. 702). According to numerous scientific research studies and medical journals, those who are exposed to more stress are at greater risk of contracting cardiovascular disease (Laura Kubzansky, 2009). When stress occurs inflammation is on the rise, oxidative damage occurs, and vascular dysfunction and injury are more likely (Kubzansky, 2009). When the body releases stress hormones, the heart rate goes up, blood pressure rises, breathing becomes more rapid, digestive system slows down, immune system goes down, muscles become tense, and we do not sleep with this heightened state of alertness. With the constant state of stress, poor eating habits, and lack of physical activity that is all too prevalent in modern day society; its no wonder heart disease statistics are on the rise. Modern lifestyle habits are deemed harmful to the body. When the stress hormone cortisol is released from the adrenal glands it may wreak havoc on the body if the stress continues for too long. When people are stressed and eating cheeseburgers on a daily basis, the heart is becoming congested, circulation is strained, and the heart fails. But why do women suffer from heart disease more than men? It is discovered that women suffer illnesses that lead to heart disease more than men do, disease like obesity, depression, stroke, renal and heart failure (American Heart Association, 2016). Women are more likely to die a year after a heart attack then men are (AMA, 2016). Next, I discuss the different types of heart disease.

Kinds of heart disease

Recent research has shown us that 60 million or more American citizens suffer from some form of heart disease, including coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and cardiac arrhythmias (Rosick, 2007).  The following is a list provided by the World heart federation (WHF). Rheumatic, hypertensive, ischemic, cerebrovascular, inflammatory, congenital, and heart failure heart diseases, types of Inflammatory heart disease are valvular, pericardial, cardiomyopathy, atherosclerosis heat diseases, types of cerebrovascular heart diseases are atherosclerosis, cerebral vascular, stroke, transient ischemic attacks heart diseases, types of Ischemic heart disease s are angina, atherosclerosis, coronary artery heart diseases, heart attack, also sudden death. The most serious of heart diseases is coronary artery disease because it is America’s No.1 killer (WebMD, 2016). Heart attack is likely having this disease present. Arrthymia is also dangerous, when the heart doesn’t beat in sync.

The majority of these heart diseases are results of people’s lifestyle choices. There are others who are born with heart diseases, called congenital heart diseases and there are different types like heart valve defect, muscle or wall defect, vessel defects, not all likely treatable but its possible to live with them in a more careful way (WebMD, 2016). There are proven steps to reduce the risk of contracting heart disease if born with heart problems (AMA, 2016). Heart disease is a serious matter, but with the idea of epigenetics we too can control our fate with the use of therapeutic measures to stave off cardiovascular diseases (Charbel Khalil, 2014). Epigenetics is a wonderful idea that we mustn’t believe genetics is the only contributing factor for disease like heart disease, that we are in control of our health, at least 50% of the time. On one hand, “Heart failure (HF) results from a complex genetic predisposition and multiple environmental factors” according to Khalil (2014), and on the other hand, with epigenetics, people are programming and modulating gene expression of relevant cell types involved in heart disease. We are more than our genes!  Our genetic predispositions can be altered! Change is possible.

There are many symptoms to look out for that give clues to what heart disease might be present. A few signs that you may be at risk for heart disease are: sleep apnea, yellow/orange bumpy rash,  poor grip strength, dark spot under nails, dizziness, sexual problems, abnormal skin color changes, bleeding gums, dark velvety skin patches, trouble breathing, edema, and fatigue (WebMD, 2016). Other symptoms of heart problems are pain down the arm, jaw pain, nausea, snoring, coughing, cold sweats, edema, and irregular heart beat (WebMD, 2016). These are danger signs that something is not normal in the body and radical changes need to occur to bring the health back to normal.

There is one not on the list that I am familiar with, pulmonary vascular disease, which is any condition that effects the route between the heart and lungs (WebMD, 2016). The article I found claims that hypertension can occur within the vascular network, this can cause shortness of breath from the heart failure, autoimmune disease, or lung disease. Its also possible for a blood clot to travel to the heart into the lungs; if not reabsorbed into the body it causes further lung problems and chest pains (WebMD, 2016). If there is congestive heart failure already present, than people are sure to have pulmonary vascular disease as well, it is most certain breathing will be an issue. This leads me into the next topic, since once the breath is compromised, the brains health will be too.

Heart Disease and Alzheimer’s

The brain and the rest of the body need oxygen to survive. If there is heart disease, the brain will not be getting the blood and oxygen and other nutrients it needs to function at optimal levels. “Heart failure is associated with changes in brain regions that are important for demanding cognitive and emotional processing” claims Almeida et al. (2012). Poor circulation or a strained heart muscle may be a cause for Alzheimer’s according to recent research. In one study they found that heart failure patients had worse immediate and long-term memory and reaction speeds than healthy people, also, the brain scans showed that heart failure was associated with loss of gray matter in areas believed to be important for memory, reasoning and planning (MedicineNet, 2012). Hypoxia is when the brain is being starved of oxygen, a known cause of Alzheimer’s, or memory loss or dementia (Rosick, 2007). Alzheimer’s now affects more than 5 million Americans, including one of eight Americans aged 65 or older and nearly half of those over the age of 85 (Rosick, 2007). This is enough people to be concerned for our own health and that of our loved ones. If heart health and brain health are correlated, this is reason enough to take better care of the heart muscle to keep our brains up to speed. If more people understood the importance of heart health all throughout their lives and did not take their bodies for granted there would be less people sitting in a wheel chair drooling from the side effects of drugs later down the road, and ultimately less health care costs.

Cardiovascular exercise is important for heart health and brain cognition. The things that keep the heart & brain healthy are walking, Yoga for improved circulation, clean diet, and living relatively stress free; its as simple as taking the dog out everyday and eating a vegetarian diet void of GMO’s and processed foods. We can avoid health problems with consistent effort, because there are too many diseases on the charts that can be detrimental to ones health and longevity. Its never too late to get healthier, its much better than the alternative. Ive read consuming coconut oil can reverse Alzheimer’s but Ive also read coconut oil is a saturated fat and clogs the heart, so either way we are not getting out of here alive. So might as well take good care of the health with the help of some TCM.

Chinese Philosophy on heart disease

Heart disease occurs when heart qi is weak. The treatment is to tonify the heart qi to strengthen the heart so blood is distributed to all areas of the body as needed. Impaired blood flow is blood stasis, a major cause of disease and pain. TCM is a holistic healing practice that believes disease begins in the psyche and eventually manifests itself in the physical. Emotions like sadness weaken the heart qi, because lung qi and heart qi are connected. Anger effects the heart indirectly. All emotions effect the heart, especially over joy. Anger in particular causes heart fire to increase from the liver yang rebelling upward and outward much too freely. It weakens the lungs ability to hold down the liver qi. The pulse will be empty, the face flush or dull, a crack down the center of tongue, palpitations of the heart, deep and weak heart beat because yang qi not moving the blood efficiently. This is information I gathered from Sacred Lotus Chinese Medicine website.


Almeida et al. (2012). Cognitive and brain changes associated with ischaemic heart disease and heart. European heart journal, 07/2012, Volume 33, Issue 14

American Heart Association (2016). Heart attack risk factors: women vs men. Retrieved from: https://www.goredforwomen.org/about-heart-disease/heart_disease_research-subcategory/heart-attack-risk-factors-women-vs-men/

Heart pattern differentiation. Sacred Lotus. (2016). https://www.sacredlotus.com/go/diagnosis-chinese-medicine/get/zang-fu-heart-patterns-tcm

Khalil, C. (2014). The emerging role of epigenetics in cardiovascular disease. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4049125/

Kubzansky, L. (2009). Aldosterone: A forgotten mediator of the relationship between psychological stress and heart disease. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews

Volume 34, Issue 1, January 2010, Pages 80–86

Marieb, E. and Hoehn, K. (2011). Human Anatomy and Physiology. 7th Edition. Pearson Publishers. 

MedicineNet (2012)  Retrieved from: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=154268

Rosick, E. (2007). The Deadly Link Between Heart Disease and Alzheimer’s.

stress. (n.d.) Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. (2009).  http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/stress

WebMD (2016). 12 clues that you might have heart disease. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/ss/slideshow-heart-diesase-clues?ecd=wnl_spr_111916&ctr=wnl-spr-111916_nsl-ld-stry_1&mb=YyftCB8J3B%2fdYxZVhlkrthXFE73IOX1cc0b15FuBKlY%3d.

Medically reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on June 07, 2016

WebMD (2016) Pulmonary vascular disease. Retrieved by: http://www.webmd.com/lung/pulmonary-vascular-disease

WebMD (2016) Heart symptoms. Retrieved by: http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/never-ignore-symptoms#1

WebMD (2016) Heart disease symptoms. Retrieved by: http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-symptoms-types

WebMD (2016) 12 Clues you might have heart disease. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/ss/slideshow-heart-diesase-clues?ecd=wnl_spr_111916&ctr=wnl-spr-111916_nsl-ld-stry_1&mb=YyftCB8J3B%2fdYxZVhlkrthXFE73IOX1cc0b15FuBKlY%3d

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