Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The "Spooky Science" of Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

Over at Track Your Plaque we are always pushing the envelope on heart disease prevention and reversal.  I have been in the program so long that (barring another ground breaking find of which there have been many over the years) I am near the end of what I can do physically.  However, I have always been intrigued by how the mind might be used to alter the body.

Throughout history there have been many wild claims of yogis and mystics doing incredible things with their minds and living to ripe old ages disease free so I have always kept on the look-out for some hard science to back it up.  But I am a skeptic and, like Houdini, skeptical of whether there was any scientific truth to the wild claims - until recently.

I started to read about findings that the heart and other organs have clusters of neuronal cells (rudimentary "brains") and independent nervous systems that interact with the brain.  In fact, the heart has been reclassified in some precincts as an endocrine organ because of research that indicates it produces hormones.  Sound a little spooky?  Hang on, it gets even spookier.  I have begun to uncover literature that suggests these "brains" in conjunction with the "master brain" in our heads can even alter the transcription of certain genes.  It does not change your DNA but the suggestion is that these "brains" can "order" the body to either up-regulate or down-regulate the production of specific proteins created by DNA, proteins that literally govern how our body behaves.

So where does HRV come in?  Recent research has revealed that the beat to beat variation in heart rate (the time between "T to T" peaks in the QRST waveform of a typical EKG) is an exquisitively sensitive measure of the functioning of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), the two major components of our body-wide Central Nervous System (CNS).  In a nutshell, when all the body's "brains" are communicating coherently they exert minute variations in the heart rate.  However, in situations of stress or disease the heart essentially runs on auto-pilot with little beat to beat variation.

We were so intrigued at Track Your Plaque over the possibilities we approached the HeartMath people, the leaders in HRV monitoring, to provide us with their HRV product so we could put it to the test - and it did not disappoint.  Once again, I was the guinea pig.  The next few posts will chronicle my personal experience with the basic PC Desktop version of the HeartMath emWave HRV monitor and training device.

The graphic below illustrates my baseline HRV waveform and it is very instructive of what most people will experience.

Notice how choppy and irregular it is which is exactly how the HeartMath people said it would be for a "noob" like myself.  A "coherent" nervous system, with the brain in your head in coherence with the rest of the body's "mini-brains" produces a smooth, sinusoidal trace.  The HeartMath "emWave" device is essentially a training tool with a built-in "coherence coach" to help you practice reaching a coherent state )with multiple challenge levels (kind of like resistance training for the body.

After several sessions and a little frustration at not be able to instantly master it (what can I say, I'm impatient) I did indeed improve coherence - but that will be the subject of my next blog!

Looking out for your heart health,


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