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Mental Health and Heart Disease

Your mind and your body are not separate units they are essential components of one entity. Mental and physical health are linked. There is an association between having a mental disorder such as anxiety, bipolar disorders, depression, or schizophrenia with an increased risk of heart disease or stroke. While bipolar disorders and schizophrenia are not particularly common conditions, anxiety and depression affect nearly everyone at one time or another.


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Why does a having a mental disorder increase the risk of heart disease?

People struggling with mental health tend to smoke and use alcohol more excessively than the rest of the population. They may also put less of a priority on a diet and exercise.


In addition, if psychiatric medication is required, many of these medications cause weight gain by altering the bodies’ breakdown of fats and sugars. As obesity develops, so do high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes. There is still a negative stigma associated with mental illness and the subsequent lifestyle issues it brings leaving sufferers less likely to receive medical attention.




– Mindfulness – to bring your attention to your internal experience at the present moment

You may be tempted to push ‘mindfulness’ and associated buzzwords aside as a passing trend; but let’s work towards incorporating mindfulness into every aspect of our lives. Mindfulness based stress reduction programs are effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress as well as blood pressure and body mass index in patients with heart disease.


– Using food to protect your mind and body

What we put in our mouths either slowly poisons us or builds strength and energy. Food is medicine. In 2015 an article in The Lancet Psychiatry stated that nutrition may be as important to mental health as it is to cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology. And this year a study showed that a modified Mediterranean diet helped many patients with severe depression in just 12 weeks.

Food has a direct impact on how we feel. You may not have thought about it before but you probably know how nice a piece of cake can taste when you’re feeling a little low. Or when you’re feeling happy, for that matter! A sugary snack really makes things worse. A nutritious diet, not one based on soda pop and processed foods, gives sustained mental energy and the ability to cope with stress. It also reduces our risk of heart disease and other health conditions. We can use the power of food to change our moods and our lives:




– Reduce sugar and processed foods!

Fluctuating blood sugar levels can cause a rise in stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline and negatively impact mood.

– Include omega-3 fats

These fats are needed for good brain. Get some from fatty fish (salmon or anchovies), leafy vegetables, and seeds.

– Incorporate tryptophan containing foods

Your body converts the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, a mood-boosting neurotransmitter. Tryptophan can be found in chicken, seeds, and walnuts

– Feed your microbiota

These are the bugs that live in your gut; bacteria, fungi, and viruses. When your gut or digestion is upset, it has a significant effect on your mood. To maintain a healthy microbiota eat more vegetables as their prebiotic fibre helps these bugs to thrive. The best are broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, and onions. Fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut, are also good options for maintaining a healthy gut environment.




Prevention Strategies

Whether you are depressed, suffer a serious psychiatric condition, or are free from mental health issues, the prevention and maintenance strategies are the same:

– Healthy diet,
– exercise,
– be smoke-free,
– limit alcohol consumption,
– and, mindfulness.

Continued follow-up with your physician and other medical professionals is essential. All medications have risks and side effects but the benefits often outweigh the risk so please continue to discuss your health and medications with your physician – and to do it often. A healthy lifestyle is the best thing you can do for your mind and body. Your heart will thank you.

Dr. James Kneller treats atrial fibrillation, arrhythmia, and other heart conditions. He is an internationally recognized authority on cardiovascular health and personal development.



Jacka, F.N., et al. (2017). A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Medicine, 15, 23-35.

Parswani MJ, Sharma MP, Iyengar S. (2013). Mindfulness-based stress reduction program in coronary heart disease: A randomized control trial. International Journal of Yoga, 6(2), 111-117.

Sarris, J., et al. (2015). Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. The Lancet Psychiatry, 2(3), 271–274.









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