Written by Annelie Holmene Pelaez Tuesday, 01 February 2011 18:37
Dr. Paul C. Moulinie, director of the Center for Complementary Care at Huntington Hospital, knows the positive effect that meditation has on the cardiovascular system, and he shares it gladly with his patients. Besides managing a busy private cardiology practice, he serves as chief of the division of cardiology at Huntington Hospital. He is a strong believer in treating the patient as a whole, not just the disease. The Center for Complementary Care offers strategies in how to manage stress. Here health care professionals assist patients in different stress reduction techniques, including meditation and yoga.
As stress is becoming more and more rampant in our daily lives, so are diseases affected by it. Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is one. This involves the heart and blood vessels, often caused by atherosclerosis. According to the American Heart Association, (AHA), cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in America. Studies show that meditation can be a great preventive tool in CVD risk reduction.
In mainstream America, stress reduction and meditation are often used interchangeably.
According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, the word “meditate” means, “To focus one’s thoughts on, reflect on, or ponder over.” Meditation practice is considered taking time to sit undisturbed in a relaxed manner, allowing the mind to be free from sensory overload, and to be fully present in the moment by focusing on an object, thought or sound.
There are many different meditation practices. Besides stress reduction, they all promise to bring about more energy, greater focus, improved confidence, and more zest for life. As nearly 2,300 Americans die from CVD every day, studies are being done proving the benefits of meditation in the prevention and treatment of CVD risk factors.
Dr. Moulinie said his father was a great influence in his decision to practice cardiology. His experience also led to stress reduction studies.
“He suffered from heart disease for many years,” Dr. Moulinie said. “Besides having a stressful lifestyle working long hours, he was also a heavy smoker and had several heart attacks before he died.” This was a time before stress reduction techniques were common. Positive lifestyle habits that reduce CVD risk factors include getting enough sleep, eating more fruits and veggies, and incorporating some form of regular exercise routine.
Discussing how to best assist patients in adopting therapeutic life style changes Dr. Moulinie said,” When patients present with CVD risk factors, the first line of treatment is trying to understand their lifestyle.” Some risk factors that cannot be helped include heredity, gender, and age. Others like high blood pressure, diabetes type 2, and high cholesterol may be related to overeating and stress and can be helped by improving lifestyle habits.
“I like to know what the patients’ circumstances are. Assessing people’s basic knowledge about nutrition, lifestyle activities, how they react to stress, and how it affects their health is essential,” Dr. Moulinie said. “One of my patients developed elevated blood pressure. He held a high power position on Wall Street and endured ongoing stress. When he found ways to reduce the stress level, his blood pressure returned to baseline.”
Meditation relaxes the body and mind by deactivating the sympathetic nervous system. The same nervous system is turned on when we are stressed. It increases the heart rate, blood pressure, and release stress hormones. Adrenalin and cortisol are examples of stress hormones that are toxic to the endothelium, the inner lining of the arteries. This contributes to the development of atherosclerosis. Reduced heart rate, lower blood pressure and stress level are benefits caused by regular meditation practice.
“We must look for ways to experience the peace and tranquility that is inherent in all of us, and not become victims of the noise and stress all around,” Dr. Moulinie said. “The heart and arteries are living things. They understand anxiety and fear and react to life around us.”
Dr. Moulinie practices transcendental meditation (TM), so he knows what he is talking about.
A ground-breaking 2009 study, from the American Heart Association (AHA), sponsored with a $3.8 million grant from the National Institute of Health, showed that patients with coronary heart disease who practiced the stress reducing transcendental meditation technique had nearly 50 percent lower rates of heart attack, stroke, and death compared to no meditating controls.
Although meditation should never replace traditional health care, like taking medications or seeing a doctor, adding meditation to improve daily lifestyle has proved to be valuable. But there is another benefit to daily meditation practice, the development of personality and human growth potential.
As Dr. Moulinie said, “The core of meditation is the body-mind connection. It will connect us to the peace and tranquility that exists in the universe. Out of this calmness, free from stress, opportunities will arise, and our human consciousness will guide us to a more fulfilled life.”
Not only does meditation promise to improve health and quality of life, it carries the hope of knocking cardiovascular disease off as the number one cause of death among Americans.