Local Insights

Published on May 30th, 2018 | by Publisher, Natural Awakenings New Mexico


Cardiovascular Disease Prevention

by James Dernocoeur

While modern medicine has made great strides in treating cardiovascular disease it remains a major problem in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cardiovascular disease remains the number one killer of men in the U.S. Cardiovascular disease includes problems such as myocardial infarction (heart attacks), heart failure, cerebrovascular accidents (strokes), and peripheral vascular disease.

The American lifestyle is filled with risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise. One of the most underappreciated risk factors is stress.

While our bodies are designed to manage stress, persistent stress or overstimulation of the stress system can be deleterious. To understand this risk factor, we must look at the body’s response to stress.

Our bodies are filled with multiple systems that provide a metabolic balance; this balance is referred to as homeostasis. These homeostatic mechanisms will naturally bring our body to a healthy balance if the system is given the tools and opportunity to do so. The autonomic nervous system is one of these homeostatic mechanisms. The autonomic nervous system mediates our response to stress.

The autonomic nervous system has two major branches: the adrenergic system and the cholinergic system. The adrenergic system mediates the classic ‘fight or flight’ response. When confronted with a sudden risk, such as being attacked by a tiger, your body will respond with the fight or flight response. This readies your body to either fight or run from the tiger. When adrenaline is placed into the system the heart rate goes up, blood pressure increases, more oxygen is delivered to the muscles, and the brain becomes alert.

In contemporary society, we are constantly bombarding our adrenergic portion of the autonomic nervous system. This means that the cardiovascular system is being overstressed.

By managing stress, we can reduce one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. One of the emerging and exciting tools involved in managing stress is flotation therapy: Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST). Floatation is a sensory deprivation therapy, consisting of a tank filled with body temperature water and 1,500 pounds of Epsom salt. A person will float in this solution for about one hour. By cutting off the stress of over stimulation allows the body’s natural process to return to a natural balance. The cholinergic and adrenergic systems can now come into balance. This balance allows the body to naturally bring blood pressure down, reduce the heart rate, and decrease oxygen demand. This also allows for significant relaxation which allows for muscle and brain recovery. This type of therapy has also been shown to reduce problems with sleep deprivation—another stressor to the cardiovascular system.

Modern medicine response to cardiovascular disease is the skillful use of medications and procedures. These are designed to treat the disease; flotation therapy is a nonpharmaceutical approach to reduce the risks of developing cardiovascular disease.

With no side effects, flotation therapy allows the body’s built in mechanisms to provide appropriate balance, while naturally lowering blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels.


James Dernocoeur is a physician assistant who has worked in the emergency department for over 20 years. 

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