Prescription for the Male Heart: Calm the Stress Response and Bolster the Cardiovascular System

By Meg Jordan

Even though there is some common ground in how men and women can tackle health concerns, a wide range of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, affect men in different ways. Men experience symptoms differently from women, and some conditions require different strategies and treatments. For example, research has found profound gender-related differences in the ways heart disease presents itself, especially when mental stress appears to outweigh other risk factors as the trigger.

Mental stress can induce vasoconstriction (narrowing) of the peripheral arteries, which causes a rise in heart rate and blood pressure. In a three-year study comparing men’s and women’s responses, researchers were surprised to find that men had a significantly higher susceptibility to mental stress that led to peripheral arterial vasoconstriction, lower oxygen supply to the heart muscle (myocardial ischemia) and eventual cardiovascular disease.

A two-pronged approach to countering this kind of troubling response would be 1) to increase the body’s ability to ward off the damaging effects of chronic stress, and 2) to bolster the heart’s protection. Meditation and adaptogens are two of the easiest, self-care strategies that men at risk should start right away.

Meditation will help you alter your response to stress. The brain and nervous system is hard-wired to support your conscious effort to unwind. A daily 20-minute practice of either Mindfulness Meditation or Transcendental Meditation has been clinically proven to reduce anxiety, worry, and the emotional stress that exacts a high physical toll.

As for protecting the heart, men should consider high quality fish oils, daily aerobics, and a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. But there is an added supplement that most men don’t know about that has the double benefit of calming the impact of stress, and bolstering the cardiovascular system. Taking an adaptogenic herb such as Japanese Red Reishi, can supply beneficial cardio protection.

Red Reishi offers a vast array of phytochemicals that may guard against heart disease and stroke due to its effect in lowering many different risk factors. The high content of ganoderic acids (where Red Reishi is the only known source of this unique phytonutrient) assists in lowering triglyceride levels, lowering cholesterol, decreasing blood pressure, and reducing platelet stickiness. Reishi can also improve blood flow and lower oxygen consumption in heart muscle. In a six-month clinical trial in Tokyo, nearly half of 53 hypertensive patients lowered their blood pressure by almost 20 points, and 10% of the subjects dropped their pressures 30 points after taking Japanese Red Reishi extract for four weeks.

Japanese Red Reishi will serve to reduce the inflammatory effects of chronic stress. Adaptogens are nature’s botanicals that specialize in stress reduction by modulating the body’s various biochemical responses, from the neurohormonal, to the glucocorticoids and the cardiovascular pathways. In short, the two factors that build a healthy foundation for a man’s heart—a gentler response to stress and a healthier cardiac profile—may be found in a remarkable medicinal mushroom that has been valued in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries as the “superior plant.”

Dr. Meg Jordan, PhD, RN, CWP, is a medical anthropologist known as the Global Medicine Hunter®. She is an integrative health specialist, international health journalist, and a professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

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