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.
Consumers Driving the Movement
Health consumers and frustrated patients are pulling the nation's medical
community into arenas of spirituality and alternative medicine, says Guarneri.
"People are dissatisfied with conventional treatments. They're moving to
treatments that are more conducive to their belief systems… and they believe
that stress and their environment affect their health," she tells
One government study showed that Americans were making twice as many visits
to alternative and complementary providers, compared with primacy care doctors.
The practices ranged from deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to
hypnosis, guided imagery, and meditation.
Michael Irwin, MD, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at
UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine, is also director of the Cousins Center for
Psychoneuroimmunology. It's a research center named for the late Norman
Cousins, a journalist who, in the late 1970s, introduced Americans to the
concept of holistic healing -- that positive emotions can impact one's
"There has been increased interest in how the body communicates --
specifically, how the immune system communicates -- with the brain," Irwin
tells WebMD. He is investigating the link between emotions and immunity. As
scientists have found with many diseases including heart disease, the process
of inflammation is a central player.
"People who are depressed -- and who have heart disease -- are more
likely to have higher levels of cytokines, molecules that are linked with
immunity and with inflammation," he explains. "There's good evidence
from animal studies that increased levels of cytokines put people at risk for
depression, which becomes a vicious cycle that leads to greater heart
Through functional MRI, researchers "can examine very precisely how
people respond to a change… exactly how their brain activity is altered when
they relax or if they have higher cytokine levels," explains Irwin. "As
a medical doctor, I want to know how these findings affect my patients -- and
people with heart disease may be more sensitive to stressors. Depressed people
are more sensitive to stressors. Until we understand that, we can't develop new
Irwin's studies have looked at the effects of tai chi on the immune system,
he says. A new grant from the National Institute on Aging will be used to study
effects of tai chi in improving insomnia by improving inflammation and cytokine