NCCIH Highlights Whole Health Approach to Heart Disease


In a recent statement, Helene Langevin, MD, Director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), discussed the importance of considering all aspects of health when treating and preventing heart disease as we enter 2024.

“Even when we’re focusing on a single disease process, we need to consider multiple mechanisms and parts of the body, as well as people’s lifestyles and environments, to fully understand how best to prevent or manage it,” she wrote.

In reference to the 2023 Stephen E. Straus Distinguished Lecture in the Science of Complementary Therapies presented by Ahmed Tawakol, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Langevin highlighted the connection between cardiovascular disease and the body’s different responses to psychosocial stress.

According to Langevin, Dr. Tawakol's studies reveal that individuals vary in how their brains react to prolonged stress. While some exhibit intense responses, others display a greater neurobiological resilience, with minimal changes in brain activity under stress. Genetics partially explains this variation, as those with higher genetic risk scores for stress sensitivity show more pronounced brain stress signals and a greater risk for heart issues.

Langevin explained that lifestyle elements, particularly exercise and sleep levels, also contribute to cardiovascular disease risk. Based on Dr. Tawakol's research, she suggested that stress reduction activities, exercise, and getting adequate sleep should be prioritized among those with higher cardiovascular risks.

“If you’re thinking about health goals for 2024, you may want to consider these three aspects of lifestyle—managing stress, being more active, and establishing healthy sleep patterns—as priorities for the year even if you’re not at high risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Langevin. “These habits aren’t just good for your heart; they also benefit your physical and mental health in many other ways. And unlike some medicines, they don’t have unpleasant side effects.”