Heartbreak and Heart Failure

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-2-48-11-pmSometimes life, work and study all seem  to dovetail and everything makes sense for just a few glorious moments. Cardiology was like that for me, in between the Frank Starling curves.

Last year we had a case study of a woman with congestive heart failure (CHF.)  Her husband had renal failure and needed dialysis, and she worked at a job she didnt love. She slowly developed worsening heart failure over the course of the case, with  shortness of breath, edema, high blood pressure, and poor circulation, eventually dying from it. I was impacted by the apathy she displayed in her efforts to recover – unwilling to eat more grains and greens, decrease salt,  get outside, exercise regularly, investigate psychotherapy, or better her personal life in any way. Instead, she just declined in health, adding a new prescription per year to mange her symptoms until she  – drowned. In her grief. Of heart disease.

This. Story. Happens. Every Day.

And not only in the US, or Canada or Europe. World-Wide.

The multitudes of meta-analysis risk factor evaluations like the Framingham, Whitehall and Rekjavic studeis have concretely illustrated important evidence about the facts of heart disease: atherosclerotic fatty streaks in arteries, high blood sugar, and  inflammation are the undeniable Holy Trinity of heart disease. What is not being avidly reported is the rate of divorce, or mood disorders in these same subjects. The sexual dissatisfaction. The childhood trauma. Socioeconomics and race are sometimes studied, and African Americans and Latinos have higher rates of heart disease. Nobody is surprised. Russia has the highest rate of ischemic heart disease in the world, along with some African nations and Indonesia. These countries also have horrible human rights records, with well documented transphobia, homophobia and police brutality.

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-9-01-58-pmIf we are going to turn around heart disease, do we not need to acknowledge the humanity of the heart? The same  epidemiological study quoted deep within the content:

“Additional reports from this study have shown inverse associations between fair and respectful treatment at work and CHD [Congestive Heart Disease],and job control with future CHD risk.

Similarly, hypertension, which is the harbinger of heart disease through its effect on cardiac structure and function,  is hugely mediated by the stress response.

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-9-11-31-pmI was talking to Dr. Stein, an internist specializing in HIV and also our OMS II course director, about this theory that heart failure is so rampant because we have no real medicine for soul-problems like dissatisfaction, grief, sorrow, envy, loneliness and such. He said the links between depression, elevated cortisol, hypertension and CHF are well documented and clearly evidenced.

He reiterated that it is known that People of Color have higher blood pressures because their lives are more stressful due to systemic and personally experienced racism aka “stress.” It is also well evidenced that African Americans with CHF respond better to different medications than other races – Hydralazine, a vasodilator that decreases resistance,  improves survival with  isosorbide dinitrate rather than the ACE inhibitors and Beta Blockers commonly used. Ha, decreasing [systemic institutionalized] resistance as a keystone in improving survival? I need to know more about the MOA of these drugs to understand why decreasing the catecholamines isnt enough for this population; maybe its because of the deleterious and constant push and pull the sympathetic blockers have on the heart receptors of someone living in the actual adrenergic rut of an unsafe society.

3f0a8388-0078-4c4f-88ef-36078365eae5Our cardiologist professor Dr. Glass stated that the average person with hypertension is on 3.4 medications to manage it. These are usually layers of diuretics to decrease the blood volume and drain edema (decreasing preload), and beta blockers to decrease cardiac work and improve cardiac output,  and/or other meds like diphydropyridines and nitrates. But guess what – it just came out recently that hypertensive medications may be CAUSING depression/ mood disorders while working to decrease blood pressure.  What a double whammy.  This was a big study from a database of a single hospital containing 525,046 patients over 5 years. This 2016 article stated:

Major depressive and bipolar disorders predispose to atherosclerosis, and there is accruing data from animal model, epidemiological, and genomic studies that commonly used antihypertensive drugs may have a role in the pathogenesis or course of mood disorders.”

  • Patients on angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers had the lowest risk for mood disorder admissions
  • those on β-blockers (hazard ratio=2.11; [95% confidence interval, 1.12–3.98]; P=0.02) and calcium antagonists (2.28 [95% confidence interval, 1.13–4.58]; P=0.02) showed higher risk
  • those on no antihypertensives (1.63 [95% confidence interval, 0.94–2.82]; P=0.08) and thiazide diuretics (1.56 [95% confidence interval, 0.65–3.73]; P=0.32) showed no significant difference.

To summarize the findings,  calcium antagonists and β-blockers may be associated with increased risk, whereas angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers may be associated with a decreased risk of mood disorders. (Hypertension. 2016;68:1132-1138. DOI: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONA HA.116.08188.)

It appears, the drugs that most directly affect the heart muscle itself are thus linked to more mood disorders, while those that work indirectly and decrease the work for the heart seem to have less impact on mood.

This is such a broad topic and there are so many layers to heart failure – blood pressure, kidney regulation of blood pressure, nutritional effects, blood lipids, blood volume, inflammatory mediators, free radicals and antioxidants, sleep quality and more – but I think that too often we lose sight of some of the most basic truths of happiness and heart health. And we also forget the deeply sensitive creatures that most of us are and fool ourselves that pharmacy could possibly be enough to cure a heart that is systemically broken, or the effects of a chronically hypervigilant nervous system.

imagesWIDJJQD2I am going to need to become proficient at cardiology as an Internal Medicine doc. But without a degree in psychiatry, or soul medicine, or archangel intervention, how can I possibly hope to help people recover their failing hearts when the intersections cut so deep? I am scared of all of those people that have no willingness, or ability, to look deep within and make the simple and profound choices towards life. This is the part of being a physician I most fear. The medical failures; the broken hearts.

Share

The Longest Night of the Year

December is not always mistletoe and gingerbread. It can be one of the hardest times of the year for many people. People aren’t supposed to die on Christmas and relationships aren’t supposed to end around the holidays…. but they do. The myth of the happy family is only a reality for a portion of the population; and even those who do celebrate Christmas with family can have significant stress and sorrow around money, relationships, and more.

So, for those who are alone this month, or in the midst of tragedy or change or trauma, I wanted to offer some self-care advice. From a metaphysical perspective, no matter what your religion is, this time of year IS about the miracle of returning light. The first few weeks of the month bring ever increasing darkness. Light some lights in your own home, whether they are candles or Christmas lights, reflecting your own inner flame. No matter how dark the world appears, each of us has the light of our soul to guide us. Connect with yours.

broken_heart_remedy_compoundFor those with heartache, there are many botanicals that offer gentle physical and emotional support. Avena botanicals makes a Broken Heart herbal tincture and a lovely sweet Rose Petal Elixir. The elixir is in a glycerin base and is used to gently lift the spirits and open the heart. It tastes like a rose smells on a hot summer day! Many herbalists make their own rose petal elixirs at the summer solstice, in preparation for this dark time of year. Herbal medicines like these affect our body, mind and spirit. By using self-care medicines we are making a commitment to our Self to move through this time of change with as much gentle strength and internal fortitude as possible. http://www.avenabotanicals.com/rose-petal-elixir.html 

Many people have seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or just simply hate the cold. We have had a particularly cold pre-winter here in Maine, which makes getting out to enjoy our gorgeous local landscape more difficult. Prevention is key for SAD – once it takes hold it is harder to manage. Adequate levels of Vitamin D3 are especially important. I generally recommend 2,000-5,000 IU daily depending on your body weight and Vitamin D reserves. Have you had your blood levels of Vitamin D checked yet this fall? High quality fish oil is a good adjunct to Vitamin D, enhances its absorption and can help with mental health. Fish oil contains two chemical constituents – EPA and DHA. The EPA is the part that helps with depression. Aim for a minimum of 650 mg of EPA daily, taken with your D3.

Saint Johnswort is another classic treatment for SAD. This herb affects the metabolism of many medications. Therefore, I only suggest using St Johnswort if you are not on any other meds. Dosage must be 900 mg per day, taken *every day.* This herb acts like SSRI antidepressants in that it takes about 4 weeks to get the full effect, and it needs to be taken daily for best results. This herb has evidence of use back to 400AD by Hippocrates. It is an ancient and magical herb with an association to light. It is no mistake that it is useful for SAD! If you do take medications like birth control, daily pain medication or blood pressure medication but would like some mood support you can consider 5-HTP. This is a serotonin precursor that is naturally produced in the body, and is available in supplement form. It can be helpful for anxiety, depression, insomnia and “the blues.” It is quite safe in general, although it should not be taken along with antidepressant medications unless specifically advised by an Integrative Medicine Dr. Typical dosage for 5-HTP is to start with 50 mg twice a day, and increase to up 150 mg twice a day as needed.

Exercise and meditation are two other valuable tools for getting through hard times. Exercise releases endorphins which simply make us feel good! It can be a walk around the block or a cross-fit class or hot yoga. The type of exercise does not matter as much as the act of getting into your body and out of your head. Meditation offers ways to step outside the constant chatter of our ego. I recommend a guided meditation for beginners. I use this Buddhist body-focused beginner set by Reginald Ray, but there are many more available! http://www.soundstrue.com/shop/promotion/1047.pd

At the end of the day, we each need to get through our darkest times in the ways we know how. Alcohol, television and drugs are all effective in their own way, but they also exacerbate the feelings of isolation and despair. Connecting to your inner light source and fanning your fires of spirit and confidence and strength will help grant you the courage to move through these difficult times. Some of us need more help than others to connect to our strengths, and supplements like herbal remedies, vitamin D, fish oil, St Johnswort and 5HTp can be great support systems. I love the rose petal elixir for its sweet uplifting taste of summer in these harsh cold days of winter.

For personal support on transforming your own journey or connecting to your inner strengths, book an appointment with Dr. Wright. She is available for consults during the month of December including December 27, 2013.

Call 207-774-1356 now.

References:

The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. American Botanical Council, Thieme Publishing 2003. Currently out of print.

Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Michael Murray ND and Joseph Pizzorno ND. Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA 1998

www.avenabotanicals.com

Share