Friday, June 8, 2007

Heart Disease - HeartMath – Why Understanding The Mathematics of Heart Rhythms Helps Reduce and Correct Stress

Measuring and Minimizing Stress And
Reducing Deaths From Coronary Artery Disease

In conclusion, our analyses suggest that approximately half the recent decrease in deaths from coronary artery disease in the United States may be attributable to reductions in major risk factors and approximately half to evidence-based medical therapies. Future strategies for preventing and treating coronary heart disease should therefore be comprehensive, maximizing the coverage of effective treatments and actively promoting population-based prevention by reducing risk factors.

Earl S. Ford, MD, MPH, “Explaining the Decrease in U.S. Deaths from Coronary Disease, 1980-2000, New England Journal of Medicine, June 7. 2007

This week I met Dr. Bruce Wilson, a cardiologist who practices in Milwaukee. Bruce is an academic cardiologist, founder of a specialty heart hospital, and medical director of HeartMath, LLC., a 15 year old company dedicated to studying, measuring, and reducing stress as a factor in causing and aggravating coronary artery disease.

Stress isn’t always mentioned as a cause of coronary artery disease, but Bruce has no doubt it’s perhaps the major underlying factor in the high-strung fast-paced U.S. society.

What are the usual risk factors mentioned as causing coronary artery disease?

According to an article in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine, multiple factors led to and contributing to 62% fewer deaths in men and 49% fewer deaths in women from coronary disease in the U.S from 1980 to 2000.

About 44% of these changes were attributed to reduction of these risk factors:

•Decrease in total cholesterol concentration, 24%

•Systolic blood pressure, 20%

•Smoking prevalence, 12%

•Physical inactivity, 5%

These reductions of risk were partially offset by increases in,

•Body mass index, 8%

•Prevalence of diabetes, 10%

About 47% of the decreased deaths were attributed to these treatments,

•Preventive treatments after myocardial infarction (bypass and revascularization), 11%

•Initial treatments for myocardial infarction and unstable angina, 10%

•Treatment for heart failure, 9%

•Revascularization for unstable angina, 5%

•Other therapies, 12%

The New England Journal article didn’t mention stress as an important risk factor, perhaps because stress is subjective and difficult to measure, i.e., isn’t quantifiable. Yet some experts like Wilson maintain daily stress may be a more important, overarching, contributing background cause than all other risk factors combined.

This is where Dr. Wilson enters the picture. He believes stress may be as important a risk factor to consider as an elevated cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, a low HDL cholesterol, increased weight, elevated blood pressure, and decreased physical activity combined. . His ideas, and those of HeathMath, are being implemented and tested at a number of major academic cardiovascular centers.

HeartMath LLC is a performance company providing a range of services, products, and technologies to boost performance, productivity, health, and well-being while dramatically reducing stress.

The name HeartMath derives from the fact that the company is based on the mathematics of heart rhythms and how these rhythms “entrain” other body organ systems, including the brain, during periods of stress, which in Western society, preoccupies us during most of our waking moments.

One of HealthMath’s products is EmWave, a small 2.2 ounce handheld device people can carry with them in their pocket or purse to relieve stress and restore tranquility and “coherence” in their thinking, performance, and brain function.

Founded in 1991 as a non-profit research organization by Doc Childre, HeartMath has earned global recognition for its research-based techniques and proprietary technology to transform the stress of change and uncertainty, and to bring coherence and renewed energy to the workplace, and the home.

It is common knowledge that meditation, happiness, calmness, lack of anxiety, reduced stress on the job or in a marriage or other relationship may prevent coronary disease or enhance healing after a coronary event.

Over the last 15 years HeartMath, LLC, has devoted itself to reducing stress as a cause of coronary disease. It has advanced the idea and developed technologies to measuring stress levels by recording the heart rate variability through an electrocardiogram or a analysis of pulse rhythms as recorded on a portal device worn on the wrist or ear.

Cardiovascular recordings, in short, are a measure of one’s emotional state or “intellectual coherence.” By thinking of positive things like appreciation, love, or happiness, one can change the heart rate variability. This change, an increase in variability, in turn, emotionally and physiologically reduces stress. One can see this change reflected in a visible “freeze frame” on a handheld device known as the EmWave.

Wilson and his associates believe one can use this portable device to measure and decrease stress, improve intellectual performance on the job, prevent coronary disease, and promote healing. Dr. Wilson has written a book The HeartMath Approach to Managing Hypertension and is in demand as a speaker on how HeartMath’s technologies can be used to reduce stress and minimize the risk of coronary artery disease.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on such matters as heart rate variability as the body’s master guidance system controlling stress, or on stress a major cause of coronary artery disease. But for your edification and to introduce you to the language of heart rate variability, I submit this excerpt from an article by two HealthMath advocates.

New Tool for Stress Reduction, Rehabilitation, and Performance Enhancement

Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. and Dana Tomasino, B.A.

An Introduction to Heart Rate Variability Feedback

Heart rate variability feedback is an exciting new technology that has broad-based applications in stress reduction, rehabilitation, and performance enhancement.
This article focuses on heart rhythm coherence feedback training, which has proven to facilitate rapid, profound, and enduring improvements in a wide variety of conditions.

An important reason this technology is effective in so many and diverse applications is that it facilitates the maintenance of a physiologically efficient and highly regenerative inner state, characterized by reduced nervous system chaos and increased synchronization and harmony in system-wide dynamics.

This psychophysiological mode, termed physiological coherence, is conducive to healing and rehabilitation, emotional stability, and optimal performance.
This article provides an introduction to heart rate variability feedback, explores its advantages, and discusses the use of heart rhythm coherence feedback to promote the physiological coherence mode.

A new heart rhythm coherence monitoring and feedback system known as the Freeze-Framer is introduced, and examples of the effective use of this technology to reduce stress and promote positive emotional states and coherence in a wide range of wellness and performance enhancement applications are presented.

Significance and Measurement of Heart Rate Variability

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measure of the naturally occurring beat-to-beat changes in heart rate. The analysis of HRV, or heart rhythms, is a powerful, noninvasive measure of neurocardiac function that reflects heart –brain interactions and autonomic nervous system dynamics.

HRV can be derived either from the electrocardiogram (ECG), using electrodes placed on the chest, or from pulse wave recordings, using a plethysmographic optical sensor placed at the fingertip or earlobe.

ECG recordings have the advantage of producing fewer movement-related artifacts. However, pulse wave recording devices also provide data suitable for most applications, and, as they require no electrode hook-up, are more easily adaptable for use in a much wider variety of settings (see below).

Advantages of HRV Feedback

A promising advancement in biofeedback technology is the recent development of HRV feedback systems. In relation to other types of biofeedback, HRV feedback offers several unique advantages. First, HRV feedback reflects the activity of both the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system and the synchronization between them, and thus provides a window into the dynamics of the system as a whole.

Compared to EEG feedback, HRV feedback is also considerably simpler and more straightforward to learn and use, which facilitates rapid improvement. Further, because the instrumentation utilizes only a simple pulse sensor requiring no electrode hook-up, it is extremely versatile and can be used easily and effectively as an educational tool not only in clinical settings but also in the home, in the workplace, in schools, or even while traveling.

Its cost-effectiveness also makes it accessible to a greater number of people and in a wide range of applications. In relation to other biofeedback modalities, HRV feedback is also more reflective of changes in emotional/ psychological state, and thus is particularly powerful in applications where reducing stress and increasing emotional stability are critical.


Anonymous said...

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Joan said...

This won't have effect in reality, that's exactly what I think.