Dr. Chauncey W. Crandall, author of Dr. Crandall’s Heart Health Report newsletter, is chief of the Cardiac Transplant Program at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He practices interventional, vascular, and transplant cardiology. Dr. Crandall received his post-graduate training at Yale University School of Medicine, where he also completed three years of research in the Cardiovascular Surgery Division. Dr. Crandall regularly lectures nationally and internationally on preventive cardiology, cardiology healthcare of the elderly, healing, interventional cardiology, and heart transplants. Known as the “Christian physician,” Dr. Crandall has been heralded for his values and message of hope to all his heart patients.

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Rein in Stress Hormones

Friday, 20 May 2011 09:29 AM


The human body is programmed to react to dangerous situations so that you can protect yourself from harm. This natural alarm system — which includes the hormones adrenaline and cortisol — is often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response, and it gets you ready to take action during an emergency.

Adrenaline increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Cortisol increases the sugar in your bloodstream for extra energy. Once the emergency is over, the hormone levels go back to normal, along with heart rate and blood pressure.

In the case of chronic stress, however, the fight-or-flight response is always on. Constant high levels of stress hormones overwork the heart and increase the risk of heart disease. Recent studies have confirmed that high cortisol levels are a more
important predictor of heart attack risk than high blood pressure and cholesterol. But stress itself does not cause damage; the hormones that are released in response to stress are what can harm the body.

One study — which included 861 people age 65 and older — measured cortisol levels in subjects’ urine samples over a 24-hour period. In six years of follow-up, those with the highest levels of cortisol were five times more likely to die of heart attack or stroke than those with the lowest cortisol levels.

Because stress is unavoidable, it is crucial to learn how to manage it. A study of 2,700 American adults after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks showed that subjects reporting high stress levels just after the attacks were twice as likely to develop high blood pressure and three times more likely to develop heart problems in the next two years.

Everyone is going to have to deal with stressful situations. Your reaction — which is what causes the release of stress hormones — is the most important thing. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the effects of stress.

Taking these tips to heart, literally, can make a big difference:

• Make your diet as healthy as possible. Too much processed food or alcohol adds to the body’s stress load.

• Exercise regularly. It releases endorphins that improve your mood.

• Get enough rest. Even with a good diet and exercise, you can’t recover without rest.

• Manage your time. If you have too many demands and not enough time, you may need to re-prioritize. Pace yourself, schedule “me” time, and ask for help when you need it. You don’t have to do everything.

• Be realistic. You probably won’t ever do all you mean to or be successful at everything you try. Know your limits and decide what is enough to be responsible but not perfect. Perfection is stressful.

• Maintain a positive outlook. It may take time to turn negative thinking into positive thinking, but your health is worth it. This is even easier if you surround yourself with positive people. They’ll make you laugh and help you focus on the good things in life.

• Have a fulfilling spiritual life. Spirituality is what gives your life true meaning and context. It’s the one thing that can give you inner peace, which relieves stress better than anything. Being part of a spiritual community is a rich source of support and enhances your quality of life. It also allows you to give back to others, which is emotionally rewarding and heart healthy.

Hormones are not something you think about much, but they are always on the job, controlling every function of the body. Keeping them balanced as best you can with nutrition and lifestyle will do a lot to protect the health of your heart.


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