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Health & Balance

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The Heart Speaks (Are You Listening?)

Loneliness, anger, and grief can break hearts as easily as high blood pressure. To heal the heart, feel the love.

Journey Into the Heart continued...

When we experience anger or other emotions, it triggers a cascade of negative reactions throughout the body, says Guarneri. "We know that when we're angry, our bodies are surging with stress hormones that raise our blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormone levels," she tells WebMD.

"When we give beta-blockers [medications] to slow the heart down, we're giving medication to stop stress hormones," she says. Her goal is to teach people to gain control over that stress and help them cope better without the drugs -- to learn to heal their own hearts.

A sophisticated form of technology called functional MRI has provided deeper insights into the mind-body connection, says Guarneri. Through functional MRI, scientists can see in real time what has seemed so elusive -- that the thought-emotion centers of the brain are inextricably linked with the rest of the body, including the heart.

"This is one of the truly fascinating arenas of medicine," she tells WebMD. "We knew it intuitively, that mind and body were talking but now we are getting the science behind these things. We're just getting the medical technology to really understand it."

Guarneri cites 140 medical studies and other writings -- a fraction of what's out there, she says -- shedding light on what she calls the "whole heart," which doctors and researchers must address to better serve their patients.

"They are the layers that don't appear on a stress test or electrocardiogram, that are not taught in medical school: the mental heart, affected by hostility, stress, and depression … the emotional heart, able to be crushed by loss and grief … the intelligent heart, with a nervous system all its own … the spiritual heart, which yearns for a higher purpose … and the universal heart, which communicates with others," she writes.

What Is the Heart, Really?

The ancient Greeks and Chinese believed the spirit resided in the heart. To the Egyptians, the heart was an inner book, storing a person's entire life - emotions, ideas, and memories. In the past century, scientists stripped the heart of its poetry; it was a mechanical pump, requiring extraordinary measures to fix.

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