LISA CLARK: I'm Lisa Clark. Welcome, and thank you for joining us for this webcast. If you are one of the millions of Americans diagnosed with heart disease, you can turn to your doctors for help, change your diet to help, and take prescription drugs or nutritional supplements to help. But there's one more weapon in your arsenal against heart disease, and it's all in your mind. Learning how to recognize and reduce stress is an important tool in reducing your risk of heart disease. For the next few moments, we'll discuss ways to help you do just that.
Joining us for this discussion, Nate Lebowitz, a cardiologist and assistant clinical professor at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Welcome, Nate. Also joining us, Sam Benjamin. He's the director for the Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at State University of New York, Stony Brook. He is also one of the founders of Mariposa, which is a natural supplement company. Thank you, Sam, for joining us.
LISA CLARK: Let me ask you, I won't mention any names. But I happen to know someone, Type-A personality, has had some heart issues. And when you mention things like meditation or writing a journal or massage: "Not me. I couldn't possibly." How do you encourage your cardiac patients to have an open mind about the role that their minds can play in helping them get well?
NATE LEBOWITZ, MD: I think like in a number of disease states and lifestyle changes, they've studied different interactions to achieve that change. And in study after study, smoking cessation and other things, the number one modality that comes out as effective is a conversation between the physician and the patient. As long as it is a trusted relationship, and perhaps a long-term relationship. But a one-on-one relationship where you're not talking down to the patient, saying: These things work. There's science behind it. I want you to just try it.
LISA CLARK: I want to ask you a little bit about some of the things that are mentioned. Meditation is one. Journal-writing. Guided visual imagery.
SAM BENJAMIN, MD: Guided visual imagery, probably its greatest proponents are Dr. Martin Rossman and Gene Octaberg out in California. It's just another way of approaching this. It's through instruction, usually a certified instruction, and summoning up other images that might represent the disease.
I had a patient who had a problem. They were diabetic with heart disease, they had chest pain. They were being treated very appropriately, yet they continued to be symptomatic. And they imaged the fact that the heart disease and diabetes were, for them, like a ball and chain around their chest. And when they imaged that, and began to unravel the ball and chain, their symptoms got substantially better, while physiologically there was some sign of improvement, and a decreased need for drugs.
LISA CLARK: Aromatherapy was also mentioned. I think that's very intriguing.
SAM BENJAMIN, MD: Memories of smells can oftentimes summon up certain immunologic responses in the body, as well as relaxation states.
LISA CLARK: One of the most interesting mind/body approaches in this realm has to do with prayer. And it's not necessarily the patient who needs to do the praying, but there have been some studies done about people who are prayed for, and perhaps they don't even realize they're being prayed for. Tell me a little bit about that.
NATE LEBOWITZ, MD: It's called intercessory prayer. This is one of the most potentially intriguing and unknowable areas, but in a couple of good studies, patients do better.
LISA CLARK: And, to reiterate, the patients didn't know they were being prayed for.
NATE LEBOWITZ, MD: That's right. It seems to have been completely blinded. The patients didn't know, and yet they clearly did do better.
LISA CLARK: That is an intriguing notion. How does that make you feel as a physician, to know that there are things that can't be measured, can't be tested?
NATE LEBOWITZ, MD: I think, if I was purely a scientist, I would be incredibly uncomfortable with that. But I chose to go into a mix of science and humanities called medicine, and you have to be comfortable, to some degree, with uncertainty. Because you just don't know. You have to take your best shot, and combine science with art, with a bedside manner, and try to combine the best thing that will really help the patient.
So there's clearly uncertainty, and you have to be comfortable with it to some degree. It's not easy. But, clearly, there are a million things we don't know, and you have to do your best.
LISA CLARK: I can't thank you enough for being with us here tonight, Nate Lebowitz and Sam Benjamin. Thank you both so much for your input. And also, thanks to you for joining us for this webcast. I'm Lisa Clark.