||Meridian Institute News
RESEARCHING THE SPIRIT-MIND-BODY CONNECTION
Information gleaned from the constant beating of the
heart can help us to understand the deep physiology of the body.
In particular, the rate at which the heart beats may be a window into the
relationship of body, mind, and spirit.
Most people think of heart rate as a consistent
rhythm like the regular ticking of a metronome. Surprisingly, a new
technology has been developed that focuses on slight variations in heart
rate ("heart rate variability") as a positive indicator of health.
This new approach may also help us understand what Edgar Cayce meant by
nervous system coordination, an important physiological concept in the
Heart Rate Physiology
Heart rate is typically expressed as the number
of beats per minute as measured by an electrocardiogram (ECG). Heart
rate is regulated by the two branches of the autonomic nervous system which
usually function automatically without our conscious control. The sympathetic
nerves accelerate heart rate during arousal; the parasympathetic nerves
slow heart rate during relaxation. In a healthy individual there
is a coordination or balance of these two opposing physiological processes
that can instantly change to meet the needs of the body's emotions, thoughts,
or activities. The commonly cited example is the fight or flight
syndrome that is activated when we face danger (such as when we encounter
a lion or bear in a wild setting). The other extreme is the relaxation
response that is associated with meditative practices or biofeedback.
When the heart rate is grossly irregular, it is
called a heart-rhythm disorder. For example, atrial fibrillation,
a common type of arrhythmia, is a potentially life-threatening condition.
In contrast, subtle beat-to-beat variations in normal
heart rate have been found to be good. These slight irregularities
indicate that the system is paying close attention and making very subtle
adjustments from one moment to the next to a constantly changing environment.
In contrast, too much consistency in heart rate (less variability) is often
associated with dysfunction and disease.
The best example of the value of measuring heart
rate variability is the ability to predict survival after heart attack.
Over half a dozen prospective studies have shown that reduced heart rate
variability predicts sudden death in patients with heart disease.
Specifically, reduced heart rate variability appears to be a marker of
fatal ventricular arrhythmia.
Reduced heart rate variability has also been linked
to negative emotions (such as anxiety and hostility). The connection between
negative emotions and reduced heart rate variability may thus provide a
potential mechanism linking chronic stress to disease outcomes.
The autonomic nerves that regulate heart rate also
govern other essential visceral processes such as digestion and glandular
secretions. Thus, heart rate variability may also be a window into
the way the nervous system is managing the body's vital functions.
This is consistent with the Cayce concept of nervous system coordination.
Meridian Institute has been researching heart rate
variability for several years in conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis
and Parkinson's disease to diabetes and depression. In general, our
findings have been consistent with the growing medical literature linking
reduced heart rate variability to conditions with nervous system pathology.
The initial impetus for this line of research was
to explore a key Cayce concept called nervous system coordination.
Many of the medical readings refer to nervous system incoordination as
a basic cause of many illnesses. In particular, incoordination between
the cerebrospinal and sympathetic nervous systems was cited as important.
Through research in the historical medical texts of Cayce's era, it has
been determined that Cayce's precise use of the terms cerebrospinal and
sympathetic are actually the two divisions of the modern autonomic system.
Thus, monitoring heart rate variability is a simple, noninvasive way of
exploring a key Cayce concept. Using this technology, Meridian Institute
researchers were able to measure the nervous incoordination described in
the readings in some of the participants in our varied research programs.
Taking the concept of nervous system coordination
further, specific therapeutic techniques (osteopathic manipulations) were
tested while volunteers were hooked up to equipment for measuring various
autonomic nervous system parameters including heart rate variability.
(See Meridian Institute News, January, 2001, Vol. 5, No. 1).
Therapeutic effects were documented and published
in a peer-reviewed journal article. One specific technique apparently
produced an "entrainment" effect wherein the various manifestations of
autonomic functioning (breathing, heart rate, blood flow, etc.) became
The concept of entrainment has been utilized by
companies that have developed psychological techniques for influencing
heart rate variability. One of the common themes of this type of
approach is that the functioning of the heart is an expression of a deeper
spiritual reality. In essence, heart rate variability may be an expression
of love. Spiritually oriented techniques that increase our capacity
for love may have powerful physiological effects and vice versa.
Although this aspect of heart rate variability research is in the early
stages of investigation, the holistic implications are fascinating.
Since the autonomic nervous system is influenced
by emotions, thoughts, and activity, heart rate variability can, to some
extent, be regarded as a reflection of our moment-to-moment psychological
and physical status. Some researchers go even further in asserting
that changes in heart rate variability can affect brain functioning and
how we feel. Much research still remains to be done in this field to determine
if this powerful, noninvasive tool can help us to understand the dynamic
interactions between physiological, mental, emotional and behavioral processes.
With regard to the Cayce spiritual disciplines,
during the various research programs at Meridian Institute it was observed
that one of the standard protocols for assessing heart rate variability
involved controlled breathing at about six breaths per minute (i.e., one
breath every ten seconds). This pattern of respiration produced some
of the strongest measurable effects on the pattern of heart rate variability.
It was further noted that this rhythm of breathing closely matches that
produced by some of the chants recommended in the Cayce readings.
The time required to complete the chant and take the next breath is almost
ideal for inducing an entrainment effect valued by some experts in this
Based on the Cayce assertion that certain types
of massage can enhance nervous system coordination, Meridian Institute
is currently engaged in a study to explore the relationship between heart
rate variability and massage.
LINKED TO IBS
The Edgar Cayce readings consistently maintain that
problems in the bowel can produce systemic conditions. A recent medical
study echoes this theme.
Researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, California
may have discovered a simple test that links fibromyalgia (a condition
manifesting as muscle pain) with irritable bowel syndrome (or IBS, a condition
involving abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea).
The lactulose breath test (LBT) is used to assess
for the presence of microbes in the bowel in cases of IBS. Some previous
studies have found that nearly one-third of fibromyalgia patients also
The study, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic
Diseases (April 2004), explored the hypothesis that LBT would be abnormal
in both IBS and fibromyalgia patients. The researchers recruited
42 fibromyalgia patients, 111 IBS patients, and 15 healthy control subjects
who were given the LBT.
All the patients with fibromyalgia exhibited abnormal
LBT results compared to 84 percent in the IBS group and 20 percent in the
control group. Furthermore, the amount of hydrogen gas detected
in the LBT correlated with the level of pain in the fibromyalgia patients.
The researchers noted that further studies would
be needed to determine if treatment and normalization of the LBT with antibiotics
can produce improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms.
OIL DERIVATIVE LOWERS BLOOD PRESSURE
The Mediterranean diet (which relies heavily on
olive oil) has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Olive oil has been shown to have moderate beneficial effects on blood pressure
when taken in high doses for several months.
Olive oil is an excellent natural source of the
fatty acid oleic acid. Researchers at the University of the Balearic
Island in Italy designed a study to see if a faster blood-pressure-lowering
response could be achieved using a synthetic derivative of oleic acid (2-hydroxyoleic
acid). The results were published in the journal Hypertension (February
Laboratory rats that were given the synthetic derivative
of oleic acid for 7 days exhibited reduced blood pressure by 20 to 26 points
without affecting heart rate. The researchers believe that the reduction
is due to increased levels of cAMP, a natural substance that causes blood
vessel to open wider. Further tests will be needed to determine whether
2-hydroxyoleic acid might be the basis for a new family of drugs for high