Stress and Heart Disease: How to Lower Levels to Reduce Your Risk

Health Professional

Stress is part of life. There's no way you can avoid it entirely. However, if you constantly live with high stress levels, it can lead to physical problems, including  high blood pressure, angina  (i.e. chest pains),  arrhythmia  (i.e. irregular heart rate) and  heart disease.

How Does Stress Increase Heart Disease Risk?

Stress can increase heart disease risk in different ways.    First, it affects you emotionally.  This could lead you to make unhealthy food and lifestyle choices, such as overeating, not exercising, and smoking.  Stress also causes elevated levels of the hormones  adrenaline  and  cortisol, which can have a negative long term impact.  Research is also fiinding that stress affects the way that  blood clots.

What Can You Do to Reduce Stress?

Dr. Donald Brown has provided three suggestions for naturally  reducing stress levels, which I've listed below. He is one of the leading authorities in the U.S. on the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements, evidence-based herbal medicine, and probiotics. He is a naturopathic physician and received his degree from Bastyr University. He also serves as the director of Natural Product Research Consultants (NPRC) in Seattle, Washington. Founded in 1990, NPRC has provided consulting for companies in the natural products and pharmaceutical industries, as well as education for health care professionals, the natural products industry, and consumers.

Dr. Brown is currently serving on the Advisory Board of the American Botanical Council (ABC) and the Editorial Board of  The Integrative Medicine Alert, and has been an advisor to the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health.

Here are his three tips for reducing stress:

1. Make sleep a priority.

Make sure you're getting quality sleep. You cannot bank sleep. Running on just a few hours during the work week and trying to catch up on weekends may jeopardize your immune system. Many of us need seven to eight hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night. To improve your sleep quality, keep the room cool and dark. Also, remove distractions, such as electronics, including laptops and tablets.

Daily stress and tension can lead to both trouble getting to sleep and poor sleep quality (frequent wakings and lack of deep sleep). This can cause us to feel groggy and less sharp during the day and can affect work quality. Studies also suggest that  lack of sleep can negatively affect  our immune system health as well. Personally, I prefer using natural supplements instead of drugs to help improve my sleep. For instance, a new lavender oil supplement, known as CalmAid, can  improve both the ability to get to sleep and the quality of the sleep itself. Taken once daily, it not only helps take the edge of daytime stress and tension, but also can help you sleep better. Best of all, it's non-habit forming, although you should always check with your doctor before you use any dietary supplements.

2. Eat a whole food diet, balanced with regular aerobic exercise.

A healthy diet and regular exercise are essential pieces to helping our minds and bodies deal more effectively with stress. A diet with plenty of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, and low in processed foods and sugar, helps not only our  cardiovascular health, but also our mood and our body's response to stress. Aerobic exercise is a form of meditation for many people and it helps provide mental focus, not to mention that it shapes a healthier looking you.

3. Take necessary supplements.

Three dietary supplement foundations that I recommend include a daily multivitamin, fish oil, and  probiotics. Multivitamins provide an insurance policy that we are getting essential nutrients every day, particularly when we are busy and might miss a meal here or there. The B vitamins are critical to supporting daily energy and also improving mood. A quality fish oil,  high in the omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA, has also been found to promote a healthy mood, as well as heart health. Many people don't think about poor digestion as being related to stress and anxiety. But studies have found that sluggish digestion is a culprit in mood changes and even poor sleep. In addition to the diet recommendations above, a good probiotic supplement helps improve digestive health that leads to improved mood, as well as a healthier immune system.

There are many options for reducing stress. Find one that works best for you. By managing your stress levels you can  reduce your risk for heart disease.

If you already live with high blood pressure, you can access this free e-course  "7 Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure."