She was inconsolable; her husband, Paul, had died. Along with the heartache of being alone came the financial stress—medical bills, difficulty in finding employment, and, of course, the never-ending sadness. This was now two years later—with meals in the freezer she had prepared for her husband that had not been eaten and that she was unwilling to eat herself because they would bring back memories of her beloved.
Then there was that severe chest pain for which she had been urgently hospitalized a month after Paul’s death. The diagnosis on admission was an acute heart attack. She had never smoked, was not overweight, and until Paul fell ill and died, she had exercised regularly and faithfully. But she was menopausal, and the risks of heart disease increase as we age.
Following admission to the coronary-care unit came the many tests. The echocardiogram revealed that the heart muscle was not working well. That explained the shortness of breath and the tiredness—she was in heart failure. The next test was an angiogram: a special dye is injected into the coronary arteries (the blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart muscle).
Surprisingly, the arteries appeared completely normal. How could this be? After all, the symptoms of pain, shortness of breath, and nausea were so typical—and no narrowing or obstructions to account for the poor function of the heart muscle. Also, after six weeks of symptomatic treatment, the heart size returned to normal, and function steadily improved. Final diagnosis? Broken heart syndrome, officially called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.1 This condition was first described in Japan in 1990. The name comes from the Japanese term for an octopus trap, because the heart loses its normal shape and becomes more balloon-shaped, the shape of the trap. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is now being reported in other parts of the world, and 90 percent of cases involve females. It’s estimated that up to 5 percent of women treated for a heart attack have this condition. Fortunately, it usually recovers within eight weeks, so even if the actual diagnosis is missed at the time, full recovery can occur.
The professor who made the most lasting impression on me as a resident in internal medicine and then as my mentor in cardiology would always come back to the important question: Why does this happen? In Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (heart muscle damage and dysfunction) the heart’s main pumping muscle, better known as the left ventricle, is weakened. This is the result of severe emotional or physical distress and usually follows such happenings as the death of a loved one, a sudden illness, domestic violence, a fierce argument, financial loss, or even a natural disaster (and sadly, we are seeing more such disasters).
Under these stressful conditions, and especially when the individual is postmenopausal (with decreased estrogen hormone), the heart is biochemically concussed (stunned), as it were, and its normal function is lost. Thankfully, in most cases it’s only temporary. It occurs largely as a result of the high levels of adrenaline and stress-related hormones that are released during the stressful incident/process. Takotsubo syndrome is just one example of the close linkage of the mind, the emotions, and the body. It’s sobering that heart disease is not only a consequence of the so-called traditional risk factors of genes, habits, and nutrition; instead, we are wholistic beings.
This whole-person linkage is the focus of seminars and workshops scheduled for the 2019 Global Health Conference to be held in July at Loma Linda Medical Center.2 The summit has coined the slogan “Your Brain, Your Body” to use as its theme.
Matt sat curled up in the chair, not wanting to do anything, go anywhere, or even eat. Although sleep was an escape from the blackness of his mood, at times even sleep was a stranger. Jason found that his friend’s usually tidy apartment had progressively become chaotic; dirty dishes were stacked in the sink, dirty laundry littered the bedroom. This normally would have worried Matt, but now, not so much. This scenario reflected Matt’s deep depression. He had a strong family history of depression and had experienced this deep despair before and been treated. The tablets did help, and helped even more when his caring and supportive friend Jason encouraged Matt to join him at the gym, and eventually to buy a bike and ride every weekend.
But then came the rapidly progressing illness and death of Matt’s beloved mother. The bicycle tires are now flat, the gym subscription has expired, and the fast-food menus have predominated. Matt is going to need to start all over again. Fortunately, Jason is back from his six-month exchange program overseas and is working with Matt to get help and to restart the vigorous lifestyle program that resulted in much improvement before his mother’s death. Jason includes Matt’s psychiatrist along with his pastor, Pastor Bill, in his plan. Pastor Bill has completed a mental health first-aid course and is a wonderful support to Matt, as are his fellow church members. They have learned to see mental health problems for what they are—a disease that requires treatment, support, follow-up, spiritual care, and lifestyle intervention. Your Brain, Your Body: we are multi-dimensional beings—mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, social, and relational—with each facet inextricably bound with the others. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
She sat in the chair with her bright and intelligent eyes looking at all that was going on around her. She had a slight drool because of some facial weakness. She needed help to walk. She had had a stroke because of an irregular heartbeat. Her words were slurred and unintelligible. Friday evening, as the sun began to set, family and friends drew close around Grandma and started to sing. Grandma heartily joined in, clearly singing the words of the hymns she had loved for so long and knew by heart. The first time this happened the family was taken totally by surprise: How could this be? This is how it works.
The two main speech centers in the brain are specialized and localized. The perception and understanding of music is also specialized, but also widely distributed throughout the brain. This allows for recognition and recall of words associated with known music even in the presence of localized brain damage. With the professional help of a rehabilitation team, including music and speech therapists, the development of new neural (nerve) pathways can develop and allow speech acquisition through music. It’s called neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to adapt following damage, and for undamaged areas to learn the function of the areas that have been affected by stroke or other disease processes, including the various forms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Your Brain, Your Body—what a miracle of creation!
We focus on the risk factors for physical disease, and rightly so. A wholesome, balanced vegetarian diet, pure water, regular exercise, adequate sleep and rest, fresh air, sunshine, temperance, and trust in God—these great principles of health affect not only our bodies but also our brains. They encompass mental, emotional, and spiritual health as well. Positive and supportive relationships influence and enrich physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Healthy spiritual practices, including regular church attendance, result in less hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, depression/suicide, and cancers. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been entrusted with a wealth of information on how lifestyle influences longevity. Lifestyle influences not only the length of life, but the wholistic quality of life. This has been recognized by many internationally influential sources outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church (e.g., National Geographic, Time Magazine, U.S. News & World Report).3 Is it not time for each one of us to embrace the wholistic Adventist health message, not only for our personal well-being, but especially because we have a task to do?
Ellen White gives insight as to why we’ve been given this precious instruction: “I have seen the tender love that God has for His people, and it is very great.”4
Out of God’s great love for us, He has offered us the knowledge on how to have quantity and quality of life—wholeness despite our brokenness—because both our genetics and our planet are broken by millennia of sin. “I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
But there is more! We explore the wonders of health and lifestyle—as in our 2019 Global Health Conference, Your Brain, Your Body—for an even nobler reason than just personal health and well-being. We have a commission to share the blessings of good health and the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Ellen White confirms that our good health is both a blessing to us and lends strength for service:
“I saw that now we should take special care of the health God has given us, for our work was not yet done. Our testimony must yet be borne and would have influence. . . . The work God requires of us will not shut us away from caring for our health. The more perfect our health, the more perfect will be our labor.”5
Your Brain, Your Body, Your All belong to Him. Let’s not just revel in the amazing knowledge and facts shared in the 2019 Global Health Conference. Rather, let’s embrace the messages, apply them, live them, and be a blessing to all we meet, by His grace.
Until Jesus comes, may John’s prayer for Gaius be answered in each of our lives: “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 2).
Peter N. Landless, M.B., Bch., M.Med., FCP (SA), FACC, FASNC, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.