Q: I was divorced about six months ago (not amicably) and since then I intermittently feel a heaviness and pressure in my chest. So, is this all in my head or is this something I should have my doc look into? - Gary S., Hoboken, New Jersey
A: Get thee to thy doc or an urgent care center immediately; it can't hurt and can only help, both physically and emotionally. There is a physical condition called broken heart syndrome. It's caused by a strong emotional reaction to lost love that triggers a chronic surge of stress hormones such as cortisol. That can compromise heart function, and continued stress may then make it harder for your heart to recover. One theory is that if your heart has been damaged, the repair of the injury requires stem cells. However, if the damage is stress-related, your chronically elevated stress hormones deplete those needed cells and you can't repair your heart, making you vulnerable to more heart woes.
Researchers recently published a study in BMJ that looked at more than 1.6 million Swedish adults and found that folks who had a stress disorder, whether related to the loss of a loved one or divorce (adjustment disorder), or an assault (post-traumatic stress disorder) were at an increased risk of a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems over the next year. In fact, they were twice as likely as their siblings to suffer a cardiovascular event (heart attack or stroke) after the first year of diagnosis, and when it came to heart failure, meaning the heart doesn't pump as it should, they had a sevenfold higher risk than their siblings.
So when you see your doc, get a checkup and ask about emotion-calming techniques such as meditation, acupuncture and massage therapy to help your body produce soothing endorphins, and about starting an exercise program to get rid of excess cortisol.
Q: My friend just told me that teas have traces of pesticides, lead and other toxic chemicals that can be a health threat. I'm 65 and have been drinking herbal tea most of my life. Should I stop? - Doris D., Gambier, Ohio
A: First off, herbal tea is different than true tea, which contains caffeine. Real tea - green, black, white, yellow, oolong - is derived from the Camellia sinesis plant, a species of the evergreen shrub. It's how the leaves are harvested and processed that sets the different teas apart.
Herbal teas are known as tisanes. They are (usually) caffeine-free and are concocted using spices, fruits, herbs, flowers and leaves of various plants.
And no, drinking tea doesn't put you at a heightened risk for diseases such as cancer. Quite the opposite. Green tea (and coffee) is especially good for you because it contains more polyphenols than the others, but all teas contain these polyphenols, which reduce inflammation, are heart-friendly and help control your blood sugar.
The risks of tea that your friend may be referring to were publicized by a Canadian study published in the Journal of Toxicology that stated, "All brewed teas contained lead, with 73% of teas brewed for 3 minutes and 83% brewed for 15 minutes having lead levels considered unsafe for consumption during pregnancy and lactation." In addition, all brewed teas contain minerals that in excess can be toxic, but you would have to drink more than 10 cups a day to experience any ill effects. Anything grown in the ground could have traces of pesticides - even organics.
Bottom line: The cardiovascular, anticancer, weight loss, blood pressure and anti-diabetes benefits greatly outweigh any potential health risks. However, if you want to be super-safe, brew tea in the pot or cup for a maximum of three minutes. Then if you're taking any prescription meds, ask your doc if there are contraindications between your tea (this means herbal teas too!) and those medications.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.