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Heart Health

Holistic Integrative Approach

Written by Dr Arien van der Merwe (MBChB FRSPH MISMA)

And the day came when the need to remain closed became more painful than the risk to open.
– Anonymous

The heart: seat of the emotions and the soul

Experts estimate the total direct and indirect costs of death and disability from heart disease and stroke to exceed R8 billion a year. The current worldwide statistics for metabolic syndrome (type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance, combined with high cholesterol & high blood pressure) indicate that 150 million people already have it. These numbers are expected to increase to 300 million by 2020. Compare this to HIV with 22 million positive cases in Africa and 35 million worldwide, and it is clear that we have to address all the chronic diseases of lifestyle if we really want to make a difference to the burden of disease in South Africa.

According to a recent Medical Research Council (MRC) report, heart disease is the second biggest killer of South Africans after Aids. Every single day 30 South Africans die from heart attacks and 60 from strokes alone. 70% of these occur in people younger than 55 years of age. Heart disease is not the male only problem it was thought to be years ago. One out of four (25%) SA women younger than 60 is affected. Heart disease is the cause of death in 20% of all deaths in women.

A positive family history and symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, unproductive chronic cough, blue or painful extremities, extreme sensitivity to cold, leg ulcers, swelling of the ankles, pain over the chest, left arm or up the neck at rest or during exertion, have to be thoroughly evaluated with a complete physical examination, basic blood tests and an exertion or stress electrocardiogram. A thorough heart evaluation should form part of everybody’s yearly preventative medical examination, whether or not you have symptoms or a positive history. The natural and wellness treatment options are aimed at improving energy metabolism inside the heart’s cells, as well as blood supply to the heart, while simultaneously facilitating the welcoming, releasing and surrendering of blocked emotional and mental energy.

As one patient who participated in the world renowned Heart Disease Reversal Programme lead by physician, Dr Dean Ornish, said: ‘Even if the tests showed my arteries hadn’t opened up (which they did!), I would still follow this program, because I’ve opened up!’

Hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol and cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) disease risk factors

Major wellknown risk factors for cardiovascular disease:

  • Smoking
  • Elevated cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Physical inactivity
  • High stress / distress
  • Positive family history

Other very important, lesser known risk factors:

  • Low antioxidant status
  • Low levels of essential fatty acids
  • Low levels of magnesium and potassium
  • Increased platelet aggregation (stickiness)
  • Increased fibrinogen formation
  • Elevated levels of homocystein
  • Stress associated with the type A personality, worry, anxiety
  • Hostility, aggression, pent up and explosive anger

Heart facts

  • Research shows that the heart does have an effect on our health and happiness:
    • If, for instance, you focus on or visualise feelings of love, peace and gratitude, your breathing and heart rate slow down, and become synchronised and harmonious.
    • Meditation has a similar effect.
  • Feelings of love also have a positive influence on the immune system, hormones and cognitive brain function.

Heart research

As reported in the British Medical Journal, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in modern society. Employees with high job strain, a combination of high demands at work and low job control, have high stress levels and more than twice the risk of death form heart disease compared with employees who have low job strain. The stress levels and risk for employees with effort-reward imbalance (low salary, lack of social approval, and few career opportunities relative to efforts required at work) were 2.5 times higher. High job strain also showed an increased total cholesterol at the 5 year follow up, while effort-reward imbalance showed an increase in body weight. Being overwhelmed is just as bad for your health and happiness, as being underwhelmed!

More and more research studies show the link between the heart, the emotions, stress and the fact that the heart also functions as brain:

The heart has receptor sites for, and manufacture, peptides that are identical to the neurotransmitter message carrier molecules inside the brain. It is now crystal clear that the heart is a very important endocrine gland, making and releasing the major hormone, ANF (atrial natriuretic factor). ANF has a profound effect on the brain’s limbic structure and function. The limbic system is the seat of the emotions and stress survival reaction, and is also called the emotional brain. The limbic system includes the hippocampus where the memory, learning and control centres for the entire hormonal system resides. 60-65% of heart cells are neurons (nervous system cells), and not muscle cells as previously believed. These neurons are identical to brain neurons. 50% of the heart neuron cells translate information from the whole body to keep it functioning as a harmonious whole. The other 50% have a direct, unmediated neural connection with the emotional brain inside the head, with a 24/7 heart-brain-heart dialogue we are completely unconscious of. The heart is a powerful electromagnetic generator that creates an electromagnetic field that encompasses body and extends 3-5 meters away from it. One can actually take an ECG (electro cardiogram) reading 1 meter away from the body, with no wires attached! This electromagnetic field has a profound effect on the brain, furnishing radio wave pattern from which the brain draws material to create an internal experience of the world. Ultimately everything in our lives depends on our emotional (i.e. feeling) response to events.

Stress accelerates your heart rate through secretion of the adrenal stress hormones adrenalin, noradrenalin and the long term stress hormone cortisol. Stress is initially experienced as emotions or feelings within the limbic system of the brain. ANF influences not only the heart muscle contraction, pressure in blood vessels and kidneys, but also the mood-influencing adrenal glands, as well as the brain. In the brain, parasympathetic or sympathetic impulses coming from the heart help trigger the onset of either calming or excitatory thoughts and emotions. Research also shows that by focusing on, or visualising feelings of love, peace and gratitude, breathing and heart rate slow down, and become synchronised and harmonious. Regular meditation practice has a similar effect. In emotionally healthy people, there appears to be a strong tendency for the heart and brain to have a smoothly functioning dialogue, and to remain synchronised, or entrained. Entrainment reflects a positive frame of mind, but also helps create it, in part by enhancing the balance of the autonomic nervous system (parasympathetic / relaxing, and sympathetic / excitatory system). The body, clearly, can help heal the mind. But what gets this healing process started? The mind itself! Your mind, when focused on appreciation, positive self talk, love and peace, has a limitless power to trigger physical and emotional healing.

According to Candace Pert in her new book ‘Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d’, neural nests that form pathways after repeated firing in specific patterns (compare this to wild animals treading the same pathway to the water every single day), form memory not only in the brain, but also in the heart, spinal cord, immune system – actually all systems linked by autonomic ganglia and part of the psychosomatic network. This network comprises the firing between neurons in the nervous system (only 2% of the information system), the link of ligands (peptides, hormones, neurotransmitters) to their receptors (98% of the information system), and the matrix, or intricate spider web of collagen fibres that link throughout the bodymind, and extending into every single cell. According to James Oschman in his book ‘Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis’, the living matrix can be compared to a liquid crystal and it is a physical entity explaining how energy healing works, and also instantaneous, or miraculous healing. Through instant transmission along the matrix, new molecules of emotion can bind to receptors, with an immediate healing effect. On the surface, this is the benefit of repeating positive affirmations and on a deeper, spiritual level, the epiphany or transcendent moment the mystics talk about, of finally being able to let go and release old, buried emotions of past core emotional trauma, from the cells of your body, especially the heart, and creating new pathways of health and wellbeing, new ‘elsewheres of thought’ as Ramhta (JC Knight) said in the movie ‘What the Bleep do we Know?!..’.

Heartfelt feelings

We often say: my heart’s not in it anymore; my heart is sore; my heart is breaking. This is much more literal than we thought! In all cultures and religions, the experience of peace, love, healing and harmony are seated in the heart and thymus (responsible for immunity) region in the chest. Feelings of love also have a positive influence on the immune system, hormones and cognitive brain function.

In his book,
‘Love & Survival’, Dr Dean Ornish says that the most important contributing factor to heart health, is the love and intimacy found in close relationships. Research has shown that people in Japan and France (both countries with low heart disease risk) have very close family and friendship links, signifying the perception they have of having a support system in times of trouble. Lack of love and intimacy has been shown to be the most consistent predictor of heart disease! This is a more consistent factor than genetics and risk factors such as obesity, too little exercise, high LDL-cholesterol, poor nutrition and smoking.

Even some of the risk factors can be attributable to lack of social interaction and feeling isolated and alone! People smoke, drink, or overeat as an ineffective, harmful way of stilling the mind from the stressful monkey chatter, to try and prevent the emotions from surfacing.

All these are stressors or triggers for the stress reaction where the heart and cardiovascular system are constantly put in red alert to react in the classical stress response: fight or flight!

Understanding  blocked emotions, does NOT imply that you CAUSE your disease on purpose! The process occurs on a deeply unconscious level in cell memories. You can however, become consciously aware of these issues and through process work, help your inner self to heal, leading to personal power and inner peace.

Healing ideas for your heart

    • Opening your heart to healing your physical body to release cell memories, optimise physical health and use the body to connect you to your mind, emotions and soul essence
  • Identify body signals of severe stress: feel the pain, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, depression
  • Breathing exercises to open the chest area, expand the lungs, increase oxygenation of cells: belly or diaphragmatic breathing, bellows breathing, alternate nostril breathing
  • Progressive deep muscle relaxation
  • Specific yoga exercises: head, neck and shoulder stretches and rotations; cobra pose; half locust pose; head-to-knee pose; forward bending pose; shoulder stand, even if you simply lift your feet onto the seat of a chair; chest extension or fish pose; spinal twist; sun salutation; dead man’s pose to end
  • Work with arms – reaching out, drawing in with dance movements such as Nia technique, and slow, mindful movement like Tai ‘chi.
  • Following a heart health eating plan
    • Opening your heart to healing your emotions or feelings towards yourself and others
  • Work on releasing past emotional injuries and hurts
  • Forgiveness of self and others
  • Work on relationships, release of sorrow, guilt, acceptance of self and others
  • Anger management: learn how to acknowledge the intense energy of anger and allow it proper expression
    • Opening your heart to healing your thoughts
  • Use heart centered positive affirmations and directed visualisations to sense feelings of love, joy, peace and happiness within the heart. Also using the image of the sun, placing it in the heart and then allowing the moon to place itself over the heart. This allows for a balance of male and female energies within the heart.
  • Go on a journey of self discovery: deeply ingrained unconscious patterns of behaviour that do not serve you any longer, through journaling, psychotherapy, free hand writing
    • Opening your heart to connect to your soul
  • Meditate regularly: mindfulness, witnessing, visualization meditations work well for the heart
  • Releasing the shadow deep inside the unconscious mind through transpersonal and soul based psychotherapy
  • Quiet time, soul reflection and contemplation

The most important nutrients and herbal remedies for heart health

  • An antioxidant combination with enough vitamins A, E, C and minerals zinc, selenium, chromium
  • High dosages (50-100mg each) of the B-complex vitamins B1, 3, 5, 6, choline, inositol; 50 microgram of B12 & biotin; 400 microgram of folic acid
  • Magnesium and calcium in therapeutic quantities
  • Co-enzyme Q10 in therapeutic quantities
  • Hawthorn (Crateagus oxyacantha) berry in therapeutic quantities
  • Essential fatty acids, especially omega 3 found in cold water fish
  • Ginkgo biloba in therapeutic quantities
  • Garlic – eat crushed garlic in your food – at least 3 cloves a day, with parsley for the smell, or take garlic capsules
  • Phyto (plant) estrogens, e.g. soybeans, chick peas, lentils, linseed


    • Have your homocystein (a sulphur containing amino acid) risk measured together with your regular lipid profile tests
    • High levels mean high risk: accumulated homocystein damage the inner lining of the arteries, and encourages the formation of atherosclerosis
    • A study done at Ohio State University in the USA, showed a link between high homocystein levels and an attitude of hostility and anger – finally science has caught up with the mind-soul-body link! The stress associated with hostility and anger may elevate homocystein levels, accelerating damage to the inside of the arterial walls (atherosclerosis)
    • The treatment is cheap, simple and extremely effective:These nutrients ensure the conversion of homocystein into beneficial antioxidants. People with a genetic tendency for high homocystein levels, often have a deficiency of these nutrients.
      • 400 IU’s vitamin E
      • 50mg vitamin B6
      • 50 microgram B12
      • 400 microgram folic acid

By supplementing with the correct micronutrients in the form of food supplements, while taking these prescription drugs, you will prevent the deficiencies that might actually prevent the drugs from working efficiently. This is an example of mainstream and complementary medicine working together.

The heart’s language and Mediterranean countries

The countries around the Mediterranean Sea have a daily siesta time after their phyto (=plant) nutrient, fish and olive oil rich lunch as part of their cultural habit – this lowers stress levels by allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to re-balance the sympathetic or stress nervous system response. Soy based food forms the staple in Japan.

Heart centered meditation

Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair, in a quiet place, with soft pink candle light, rose quartz crystal and soothing music if you prefer. Hold your back straight, chin parallel to the floor, hands relaxed in your lap, eyes closed. Breathe deeply and slowly and feel yourself relaxing with each exhalation. Do this until you’re completely  relaxed. In your mind’s eye, imagine a bright, healing light shining into your heart. The light becomes softer, changing to hues of pink or green, associated with feelings of love, peace, reassurance, forgiveness and acceptance. The light dissolves all tension from your heart and chest. Feel all heaviness, sadness, regret, pain and seriousness lift and release, leaving you light hearted and joyful. Feel your heart developing its own radiance as though an inner flame is being rekindled. Allow this light from inside your heart to spread to every part of you, into the far reaches of every cell, molecule, thought and emotion. Imagine yourself filled with this light’s purity and wonder; your body, mind, emotions and soul healed by the radiance inside your own heart. Sense this light spreading into your feet and eyes to illuminate your path with love. Repeat the positive affirmations: my heart is light and free; I am always being guided in love; my life is filled with love, laughter and infinite wisdom; my heart opens with love, peace and forgiveness. Bathe in love’s feelings and light for as long as you can. Then slowly become aware of your body, move your limbs, notice your breathing, experience the calm and peace inside. Gently come back to normal awareness.

Heart centered wellness is an example of energy medicine and science combining in a healing dance where fact, mystery, imagination and soul exploration create an aspect of wholeness.

More information and a body-mind summary for the heart

All dis-eases, physical, as well as stress related symptoms and health challenges, are manifestations of old mental-emotional issues that block receptors on cell membranes, causing cell memories that disturb energy flow and cell function, ultimately leading to specific symptoms and signs of illness. First becoming aware of deeply unconscious emotions, then welcoming them into your conscious mind, understanding their message, and finally release and re-program those that no longer serve your health and wellbeing, provide the impetus for vibrational healing, the deep healing and connection to your Source of Wellbeing. Deep relaxation and guided imagery can assist this process. Using the chakras provide a practical tool to access the specific emotions associated with the specific chakra.

Summary of chakra 4
Location: Behind breast bone in chest
Endocrine gland corresponding: thymus (seat of the immune system) & heart as brain and endocrine gland
Body parts involved: immune system, heart, cardiovascular system, cardiac plexus, lungs, breasts, upper back, chest muscles, skin
Element, Symbol, Colour: Air, hexagon, green & pink. Hues of green and pink, restore a sense of balance and calm; allowing you to be filled with serenity and peace
Central Theme: unconditional love, compassion, empathy, human feelings – an open and warm heart, tolerance
Purpose: love and balance
Sensory function: touch
Sound/Mantra: YAM and ‘a’ (as in father)
Gemstones: rose quartz, emerald, green tourmaline, green jade, chrysoprase.  Select any of these heart harmonising gemstones or crystals intuitively, and wear on a chain around your neck, or place directly in the middle of your chest. Lie back, relax and do the deep healing heart centered meditation (at the end of the opening your heart section)
Aromatic oils: rose, jasmine, tarragon, clary sage, geranium, bergamot,  and most oils made from flowers. Oil of orange blossom helps you radiate, for yourself and others. Use jojoba or sesame as the base oil. Mix a tablespoon of base oil with 2 drops of jasmine and 3 drops of tarragon. Mix well, spread on both palms, and massage the area above the heart as well as the hearts sore spots, on both sides at the top of the sternum (breastbone) with gentle circular movements. 
Spice, Food, Medicinal plants/herbs:

  • Kiwi’s, broccoli, cucumber, green beans, peas, juicy figs, lettuce and dark green spinach: Improves endurance physically, mentally, emotionally. Eating green fruit and vegetables helps for panic, fear and anxiety. Broccoli is rich in sulphorafane that suppresses cancer cell growth and neutralises carcinogens, also carotenoids, folic acid, potassium, vit C. Spinach is rich in folic acid, lutein, carotenoids, magnesium, manganese, protein, quercetin and  vit K
  • Crateagus oxyacantha (Hawthorne berry) to balance blood pressure and reduce water retention
  • Tarragon and saffron as culinary herbs / spices
  • Melissa and Whitehorn as tea
  • Thyme honey wine is an excellent heart healing elixir. Mix 4 tablespoons of dried thyme (8 of fresh) with one litre of red wine. Simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Add 4 tablespoons of honey. Allow to stand for 1 week, poor through a sieve and take 2 tablespoons 3 x per day.
  • Echinacea helps your immune system cope with viruses, bacteria and other creepy crawlies.
  • Antioxidants support all systems, including the heart, respiratory and immune systems.
  • Bach flower remedies: red chestnut, willow, chicory.

Associated ailments & illnesses: 
Blocked 4th: problems with loving relationships and the balance between giving and receiving; letting go and holding on; between neediness and the ability to receive. Inner life: loneliness and feelings of isolation, an inability to open up and share feelings/emotions even with close others. They might seem cold, but simply cannot express what they feel. This projects hostility and aggression into their outer world, so that this is also what they attract. Classical Type A personality behaviour, the most significant risk factor for heart disease.
Heart disease (e.g. angina, arrhythmia, heart failure), high or low blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, stroke, allergies, infections, cancer, all respiratory area health challenges (infections, inflammation lungs, intercostal muscles and ribs), middle back muscle and vertebra pain, shoulder pain, breast disease incl. breast cancer, skin problems (a 1st & 4th chakra imbalance). Metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes – also medium risk blood sugar and insulin resistance) is indicative of a 3rd and 4th chakra imbalance.

Balanced characteristics:

  • compassionate & empathetic
  • loving personality
  • altruistic
  • impersonal friendliness
  • showing and feeling empathy and compassion
  • self-loving
  • doing things for others with an open mind and gladness of heart
  • peaceful
  • excellent health with optimally functioning immune system.

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