Don’t let stress break your heart

Stress once helped us to survive attacks by sabre-toothed tigers, but now it’s more likely to induce heart disease. 

Cardiologist Dr. Michael Ozner, guest speaker at the Cayman Heart Fund’s annual Learn and Live Red Dress Luncheon on Friday, 2 March,  

said stress and anger activate a person’s stress response.  

“Hot reactors, or individuals who are always mad or have outbursts of anger, are chronically activating emergency pathways, such as the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in sudden adrenaline rushes of the “fight­ or-flight” hormones called catecholamines … The catecholamines cause arteries to contract, platelets to get sticky, heart rate and blood pressure to increase, and shunting of blood to the muscles,” he said.  

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in America. 

In early man, the nervous systems’s reaction to stress kept people alive, said Dr. Ozner, who is best selling author of the books, the Miami Mediterranean Diet and the Great American Heart Hoax. 

“It was our survival mechanism, allowing us to defend against threats like the sabre-toothed tiger; this outpouring of catecholamines got us prepared to fight. It increased our heart rate and blood pressure, dilated our airways and increased our tendency to clot. Long ago, man confronted perhaps one or two stressful stimuli per day. Today, we have 20 to 30 stressful stimuli per day that our brains perceive to be direct threats.  

“Pink slips or marital stress are just as threatening as bears and tigers, and when they occur on a regular basis, have just as deleterious effects,” he said. 

He continued: “Your mental state is different than your physical state. Ironically, most “stress tests” only look at our physiological reactions to a physical challenge. And while the physical stress test is what’s used in medical practice to assess one’s cardiovascular risk, research shows that a mental stress test with an abnormal response is a greater predictor of a cardiovascular event.” 

He pointed to medical results that show a 300 per cent increased risk of a cardiovascular event in patients with both abnormal physical and subsequent mental stress test results.  

“I evaluate my patients to see if they are anxious, depressed or have anger and hostility. I try to get ‘hot reactors’ to change the way they perceive stimuli and their behaviour. Most can help themselves immensely by using relaxation response techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga, even prayer. 

“Formal psychological counselling is also beneficial for those who don’t respond to lifestyle changes. What is important is that this can be reversed. We all have stress, but we are not programmed to have chronic anger and hostility,”said Dr. Ozner, who is a board-certified cardiologist and medical director of Wellness and Prevention at Baptist Health South Florida.  


Dr. Ozner’s tips 

Get moving. Exercise regulates hormones that increase heart rate and blood pressure, and stimulates endorphins, the feel-good hormones, which help chronic anxiety. Fitter people also have smaller surges of fight-or-flight hormones once released. 

Drink green tea. Minimise coffee consumption as it stimulates catecholamines. Try green tea instead since it has added health benefits and has less caffeine than coffee. 

Relax. Practise relaxation techniques, especially in response to your known stressors.  

Maintain a healthy body weight. Being overweight increases the sympathetic drive and adrenalin production affects us is if we are habitually hostile and angry. These are the traits that we should try to avoid. 

The Cayman Heart Fund Learn and Live Red Dress Luncheon will be held at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman on Friday, 2 March. Dr. Ozner will speak on the topic: “A Six-Week Cardiac Makeover for a Lifetime of Optimal Health”. 

Dr. Ozner will also make a presentation at the fifth annual Heart Health Fair at the Arts and Recreation Centre at Camana Bay on Saturday, 3 March, from 10am to 10.30am.  

The Heart Health fair will be opened at 9.30am by Minister of Health Mark Scotland. Other speakers will include cardiologist Dr. Mikhail Kosiborod from Heart Health Centre who will talk on “Interrupting Heart Disease”; cardiologist Dr. Manish Chauhan of the Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital who will speak on “Heart Disease in Women”; cardiologist Dr. Vivian Navas from the Cleveland Clinic who will make a presentation about “Modifiable Risk Factors for Heart Disease”; endocrinologist Dr. Diane Hislop-Chesnut who will speak on “Childhood Obesity”; internist Dr. Joe Barefoot who will talk about “Your Cholesterol – An Unorthodox Approach”; cardiologist Dr. Erin Donnelly Michos from Johns Hopkins who will speak on “Vitamin D Deficiency and Cardiovascular Risks”; a representative from the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority Dental Department who will give a talk on “The Link between Dental Hygiene and Cardiovascular Disease”; and pharmacist Courtney Morrison from the Cayman Pharmacists’ Association who will speak on “A Guide to Selecting Over-the-counter Medications with Chronic Illnesses”. 

Dr Michael Ozner

Dr. Ozner