Ah, love. Is there anything more freeing than the feeling of being completely, utterly, and hopelessly in love? When suddenly, the world seems calmer, colors seem brighter, and you just can’t hide the smile that stays stuck to your face. True love is pretty wonderful because it makes us the best version of ourselves – and often, the best version of ourselves makes others want to be the best version of themselves. It’s an ooey-gooey cheesy feeling that is truly amazing.
Reflecting upon how good love makes us feel inside, we reached out to American Heart Association volunteer John A. Osborne, MD, PhD, the director of Preventive Cardiology at State of The Heart Cardiology in Dallas, TX to understand if these feel-good feelings actually affect the heart.
Dr. Osborne, is this true, does love really have an effect on the heart?
Absolutely! As anyone who has ever been in love (or read about it) knows! It not only makes one’s heart “pitter-patter” and makes us feel wondrous, it may actually be good for your heart health! When you are in love (and feel loved), one’s blood pressure responds to that peace and calm and may translate to lower blood pressure. High Blood Pressure is the most common form of cardiovascular disease and affects about one-half of US adults. If this “silent killer” is not identified, treated, and controlled, it could take between 5 to 7 years off the average lifespan! In fact, those who are married or in long -term supportive relationships live longer and have better recoveries if they do encounter heart problems. Patients who have a good social support system had better recoveries and survival rates after bypass surgery than those who did not. This survival benefit also extends to our four-legged friends as well! Don’t forget about them on Valentine’s Day either!
What about the opposite – can you really die of a broken heart?
The short answer is yes! Only in the 1980s was this described in the medical literature, although for centuries that concept of “dying from a broken heart” has been well described in literature, operas, plays, and, most recently, movies! It is called “Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy” and is more common in women and looks like a typical heart attack, but in this case, there are no blockages in the blood vessels unlike how the vast majority of heart attacks occur. It is felt that a sudden, massive release of catecholamines (the stress hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and other stress hormones) can cause severe vasoconstriction of the blood vessels to the heart and cause a heart attack, heart damage, heart failure, and even sudden death! Fortunately, if diagnosed properly and with appropriate medical care, the damage can be prevented, and our heart can heal itself with time and medications.
What are some ways you can make your heart feel happier and stronger?
A good diet (the Mediterranean Diet was voted, yet again, the best overall diet in 2019) and regular exercise along with a no tobacco lifestyle are the foundations for excellent cardiovascular and all-around health. A small amount of dark chocolate – with its blood pressure lowering anti-oxidants, flavonols, and catechins, and best of all shared with your loved one(s) – can’t hurt! The AHA has a great app to help with this called “My Cardiac Coach” that is available for your smartphone and large number of resources on the web at www.heart.org.
Responses above provided by American Heart Association volunteer, John A. Osborne, MD, Ph.D., the director of Preventive Cardiology at State of The Heart Cardiology in Dallas, TX.