Friday, October 28, 2011

#10 Mending a Broken Heart with Heart Rate Variability Feedback

Sometimes it’s hard for people to believe that breathing with feedback (HRV-F with the StressEraser or emWave) could result in significant, enduring changes in the body.  “Dude, it’s just breathing, I do that pretty much every day." 
But imagine if you could heal a broken heart with HRV-F.  Not poetically or metaphorically, but literally.  This is the subject of some cutting edge research at the Cleveland Clinic.

Like many chronic health conditions heart failure results from a progressive downward spiral.  The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), or "fight or flight response", gets turned up to compensate for the failing heart’s inadequate output.  Initially this helps, but it also makes the heart work harder.This increases the demand for oxygen, and the only way to meet this demand is to turn up the SNS even more!  Combined with inflammation, this vicious cycle leaves many people needing a new heart i.e. a transplant. 
Often a mechanical pump called a “ventricular assist device” is implanted to rest the heart, and buy some time, until a new heart is available.  With the rest provided by this pump, evidence of healing can be seen in the heart when it is removed for transplant.
Knowing the effects of HRV-F raises an interesting possibility.  HRV-F turns up the Parasympathetic Nervous System or "rest and digest" response.  It also turns down the SNS, and reduces inflammation. (Future Post). Could HRV-F help the failing heart?
Using a stress management program that includes HRV-F as a core component, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic are testing this hypothesis.  Preliminary results show positive changes in the heart tissue comparable to those seen with implantation of a ventricular assist device. HRV-F causes enduring changes in the body that can be measured, and seen on the microscopic level.
"Whoa, dude. Science Rocks."

Moravec, C. S. and M. G. McKee (2011). "Biofeedback in the treatment of heart disease." Cleve Clin J Med 78 Suppl 1: S20-23.

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