Author, Spiritual Secrets to a Healthy Heart (2013)
Board-certified physician of internal medicine
Currently working in a hospital-based practice in the Chicago South Suburbs
Maintained a faculty appointment for ten years at the University of Illinois College Of Medicine
Spent several years in private practice before joining the Christian Community Health Center where she served as the Chief Medical Officer during the final year of her tenure
Serves on the Live Empowered Executive Council of the American Diabetes Association and the Multicultural Leadership Committee for the American Heart Association
Married to Bishop Lance Davis, who is the Senior Pastor of New Zion Christian Covenant Church, four children (ages 13-20)
Spiritual Secrets to a Healthy Heart
HEART HEALTH – BODY, MIND, AND SPIRIT
The chance of losing your life to heart disease is 1 in 5. That’s greater than the chance of dying in a plane crash or a getting struck by lightning. According to studies, in the U.S., heart disease ends 600,000 lives each year, and is the #1 cause of death. Dr. Kara Davis is a board-certified physician of internal medicine and a pastor’s wife. On many levels she has seen how good and bad choices can affect overall heart heath – spirit, mind and body. Our physical health is intricately linked to our spiritual, mental and emotional health. Dr. Kara says, “A positive or negative attitude has a strong influence on heart health. In scores of studies examining the impact…all the research that identifies a connection between a pessimistic disposition and coronary illness – the data is far too extensive.”
In Proverbs 4:20-23 (NIV), King Solomon tells his son to guard his heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Solomon was primarily talking about the figurative heart – the “soul” or “spirit.” However, he points an additional blessing, noting that wisdom will impart “health to a man’s whole body.” Dr. Kara says just as God’s Word blesses us spirit, soul, and body – we must look at the concept of wholeness the way God sees it. Often we tend to look at ourselves as separate parts that fit together to make one unit, like a jigsaw puzzle. With that mindset we approach our health in a disjointed way. We are created by these separate parts that are inseparable. What affects one part of our being (spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical) will affect our whole being.
HOW ANGER, STRESS, AND PESSIMISM AFFECT THE HEART
Dr. Kara says if you neglect your spiritual heart, you may not see the immediate ramifications in the spirit - in the physical body you see more immediately the effects of neglect. We must also focus on our mental and spiritual health and not ignore them. She also says anger, stress, and pessimism/negativity are three things she sees that are plaguing the body of Christ that are affecting physical bodies as well. These are not who we are called to be in Christ. All three will increase heart disease and may take years to manifest consequences. However, anger, stress, and pessimism make you crave high sugar, high salt, and fatty (not the good kind of fat) foods.
Chronic and sporadic anger are damaging to the heart. Chronic anger is having a trait of anger or a volatile personality. Sporadic anger is anger that most of us exhibit from time to time. Both are linked to cardiovascular disease. Dr. Kara also says people with chronic anger as a personality trait are particularly at high risk.
Anger stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, causing a surge of the same hormones that are released during the early morning hours to help us wake up and start the day. The soul’s emotions can trigger a change in the body’s chemical composition and harm us. Anger is detrimental to our physical, mental, and spiritual health and left unchecked it has the capacity to kill us. In 2000, a study with nearly 13,000 participants of different races and of both genders showed that a personality characterized by anger had a greater risk for all measurable heart disease than those with a normal blood pressure and lower anger trait. To combat anger, one must acknowledge it as a problem. Then, pray and ask the Lord’s help and take the necessary steps to overcome it.
Stress is contrary to Christ’s Word where He tells us not to worry about tomorrow in Matthew 6:25. Dr. Kara also adds that we are told by the Apostle Paul to be anxious for nothing in Philippians 4:6. While life’s difficult situations are tangible, their impact on our bodies start in a less tangible place – our minds. Our emotions cause changes in the concentration of various substances, like hormones and steroids that circulate in our bloodstream. Emotions influence the amount of resistance and turbulence within our blood vessels. They affect our organs – including our heart – in intangible ways. In certain circumstances, like when confronted with adversity, this bodily response can be helpful. However, if we are continually in this mode, or “anxious for everything,” the body still releases those chemicals. This causes physiological changes –which can then be detrimental to our bodies instead of helpful. Stress can affect endothelioal cells, which will send signals that trigger inflammation and clotting of the blood. If a person has hypertension, diabetes, smoking, dyslipidemia, and aging, they are predisposed to endothelial cell dysfunction. The endothelium is sensitive to psychological stress. Several studies conducted on animals and humans show that mental stress can lead to endothelium-mediated constriction of the coronary arteries. This can compromise blood circulation to the heart. Stress also modifies cells in the bloodstream.
Pessimism disrupts fellowship with God and others and also leads to heart disease. In a study conducted over the course of thirty years, researchers found that out of 700 patients observed those with a more pessimistic tendency had a 19% increased risk of mortality. Another similar study conducted with elderly men and women showed that 55% of participants with a positive life orientation out lived the others. Also, their positive attitude protected them against the need for institutional care. There are several more scientific studies that support these findings. The conclusion is that your outlook on life will affect your heart health.
The remedy for pessimism is to be thankful in all things – if we forsake gratitude, then pessimism takes over. Not only is gratitude God’s will for us, but it also provides the best defense against pessimism. Dr. Kara says learn the power of gratitude, and let thanksgiving preserve your heart. Recognize that God is sovereign. Also, physical exercise can be helpful.
THREE KEY NUTRITIONAL CATEGORIES
According to Dr. Kara, the Three Key Nutritional Categories to be mindful of for heart health are: sodium and potassium, carbohydrates, and fat. One of the greatest effects of an imbalance of sodium and potassium is hypertension (or high blood pressure), which is also one of the most significant factors for cardiovascular disease. Salt has long been known as a major dietary culprit in hypertension. High sodium to potassium ratio is associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. From several Bible passages found in Genesis and Psalms God designs it so that we would have a predominantly plant-based diet rich in potassium with a much smaller amount of sodium. In order to switch to a diet higher in potassium, we need whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Yogurt and low-fat milk are also good sources of potassium. An example of a good sodium-to-potassium ratio is having a sandwich with two tablespoons of peanut butter topped with banana slices instead of a sandwich with cold cuts.
With carbohydrates, some carbs are beneficial and others increase the risk for heart disease. It is best to eat whole grains and high fiber.
When it comes to which food choices will impact our cholesterol level positively or negatively, we must pay attention to fat – specifically, where that fat comes from and its molecular structure (saturated, unsaturated, or trans fats). The saturated fats in cold cuts have an adverse effect on cholesterol, while the monounsaturated and polysaturated fats in peanut butter have a beneficial effect. Heart-healthy, unsaturated, plant-derived fats improve the lipid profile and also their ability to lower the risk for heart disease extends beyond cholesterol. They reduce the tendency toward the formation of blood clots, behave as antioxidants, reduce insulin resistance, and others. Olive oil is an example of a good fat.
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