Being regular is dangerous to your health

No, I'm not referring to your daily morning ritual in the bathroom. I'm talking about heart rate.

Counterintuitively, a perfectly regular heart rate is a marker of poor health. People with perfect regularity of heart rate have more heart attacks, for instance.

Regularity of heart rate occurs more commonly in people with hypertension and other metabolic derangements, and it signals increased risk for both heart attack and death. A perfectly regular heart rate, i.e., no variation in the time interval from beat to beat, suggests that the parasympathetic nervous system, the component of automatic ("autonomic") nervous system control that is associated with the relaxation response, feelings of well-being, quiet, and relaxation, is weak. It also means that the opposing sympathetic nervous sytem that regulates the "fight or flight," adrenaline-like response is allowed to be dominant. Dominance of the sympathetic over the parasympathetic system generates regularity of heart rate. Heart rate also tends to be faster, e.g., 85 beats per minutes rather than 55 or 60 beats per minute. So perfect regularity, as well as increased rate, is undesirable.

What we want is irregularity of heart rate. But not irregularity that occurs chaotically with no rhyme or reason. More precisely, we want variability in heart rate. And we want variability to occur in synchrony with breathing, i.e., the respiratory cycle.

The ideal response is:

1) increase in heart rate with inspiration

2) decrease in heart rate with expiration.

Heart rate in healthy people typically varies 15-20 beats per minute within the respiratory cycle, e.g., 60 bpm at end-exhalation, 80 bpm at end-inspiration.

Restoration of increased heart rate variability is associated with reduced blood pressure, reduced blood sugars (HbA1c), reduced inflammatory markers and cortisol (associated with stress), even an increase in DHEA levels. Feelings of well-being and calm also develop.

Among the strategies to consider to restore heightened heart rate variability and slowed heart rate include:

--Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation
--Weight loss
--Deep breathing exercises
--Meditation, prayer, and biofeedback

For our Track Your Plaque purposes, we are folding in the HeartMath strategies, i.e., use of a heart rate monitor that calculates heart rate variability in the context of respiratory cycle. If you've not already done so, take a look at the two Special Reports devoted to this topic on the Track Your Plaque website.

Comments (21) -

  • Tim Huntley

    9/25/2011 2:06:58 PM |

    Dr. Davis,

    I have spent about 6 months taking daily HRV measurements using a Suunto t6d watch and analyzing the output with a software tool from Kubios.  From my n=1 experience, the most meaningful long-term impact to improved HRV has been regular exercise.  A lot of the research studies I looked at are in agreement with the other factors you mentioned above; however some of the factors tend to be more transitory (breathing, meditation, etc. ) and create a change during the time that you are working on them vs. the more lasting effects from exercise.

    I would be happy to share more specifics from my experience if you are interested.



    9/25/2011 3:20:56 PM |

    Dear "Dr. Davis"

    i'd love to read more !

    interested one Smile

  • Geoffrey Levens, L.Ac.

    9/25/2011 4:20:46 PM |

    The folks at Heart Math have had this mastered for years.  Books, classes, seminars, and they sell a portable and a computer based biofeedback device for training "coherence".  I am not affiliated with them in any way and do not sell their products but I do think it is a pretty good way to get into the whole arena of meditation and of very directly training HRV.

  • Diana

    9/25/2011 8:01:23 PM |

    This is really interesting, because it goes along exactly with what I learned in studying midwifery - that hearing an absolutely regular/non-variable heartbeat on a fetoscope is a sign of a seriously compromised baby. Interesting that that carries on into the adult world!


    9/25/2011 9:19:57 PM |

    (The FASEB Journal. 2011;25:971.10)
    © 2011 FASEB
    Daily apple consumption promotes cardiovascular health in postmenopausal women
    Sheau C Chai, Shirin Hooshmand, Raz L Saadat and Bahram H Arjmandi
    Nutrition, Food & Exercise Sciences, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
    Animal findings suggest that apple and its components, e.g. apple pectin and polyphenols improve lipid metabolism and lower the production of proinflammatory molecules. To our knowledge, the present study is the first that evaluated the cardioprotective effects of daily consumption of apple for one year in postmenopausal women. Qualified women (160) were randomly assigned to one of the two dietary intervention groups: dried apple (75g/day) or comparative control dried fruit. Fasting blood samples were collected at baseline, 3-, 6-, and 12-month to measure various parameters. Our findings indicate that the additional daily caloric intake of ~240 from dried apple not only do not increase body weight but rather lower it by 1.5 kg without altering habitual dietary intake. In this study, apple consumption significantly reduced serum levels of TC and LDL by 14% and 23%, respectively. The daily apple consumption also profoundly improved atherogenic risk ratios in addition to lowering serum levels of lipid hydroperoxide (33%) and C-reactive protein (32%). In conclusion, incorporation of apple into regular diet is encouraged because of its highly favorable effects in reducing the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
    Grant Funding Source: Partly supported by USDA
    Table of Contents
    This Article
    1.  FASEB J. April 2011 25 (Meeting Abstract Supplement) 971.10
    1.  Â» Meeting Abstract


    9/25/2011 10:27:18 PM |

    Effects on Thyroid
    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) note that although little scientific data is available about the effects of flax on the thyroid, some experts in natural medicine advise that patients avoid flaxseed in cases of hypothyroidism. (See Resource 2) The Univeristy of Maryland Medical Center also suggests that patients with thyroid disorders stay away from flaxseed and other foods that may interfere with thyroid function. (See Reference 3)
    Thiocyanite, a substance found in flax products and other foods, such as apricots, rye, millet and broccoli, might act as a goitrogen-that is, it may block the uptake of iodine in the thyroid gland. When your diet is too rich in goitrogens and too low in iodine, it can cause the thyroid gland to swell and form a lump, or goiter. However, the typical diet in the United States contains enough iodine that problems like goiter have been practically eliminated, so goitrogens should not be a concern for the average American. (See Reference 2, pages 100-101)
    Read more: Flaxseed and Thyroid Disease |

  • Dr. William Davis

    9/26/2011 12:37:25 PM |

    I didn't know that, Diana!

    That's very interesting, a phenomenon consistent in widely variable situations.

  • Dr. William Davis

    9/26/2011 12:38:51 PM |

    Hi, Geoffrey--

    My experience with HeartMath goes back around 15 years, long ago that I still remember using Holter monitors, shipping the tape to LA, and waiting for the analysis to come back--long delay, no real-time feedback.

    The new do-it-yourself device really changes the entire equation: real-time feedback, much faster results.

  • Dr. William Davis

    9/26/2011 12:41:32 PM |

    Hi, Tim--

    I'd love to hear more! Specifically, what is the heart rate feedback like on your watch? Is it a visible signal?

    You are absolutely correct: Many effects are transitory. However, the more you do it, the more you habituate the response, the more likely it becomes "coherence" occurs spontaneously.

  • Teresa

    9/26/2011 4:14:34 PM |

    HeartMath exercises are more than regular breathing.  They advocate activating a positive feeling, such as gratitude or appreciation, during the breathing exercises.  This helps maintain the increased heart rate variability.  Here is a link to one of their techniques.

    This is a summary of some of the scientific concepts of HeartMath.  It is an older publication, but still interesting to read.

    More research studies are listed here.

    While the computer programs and gadgets are helpful, they are not essential to learning and being successful with the techniques.


    P.S.  I am not affiliated with HeartMath in any way except that I have a relative who works for them.  I don't make any money off of them.

  • Bill

    9/26/2011 8:03:36 PM |

    With regard to your play on "being regular", apart from being grain free with not one lapse for 4 years, I have been squatting for 5 years and believe it's natural and very beneficial. Strongly recommend!

  • Dr. William Davis

    9/27/2011 2:53:40 AM |

    Hi, Teresa--

    Yes, there are many ways to achieve enhanced parasympathetic tone, HeartMath coherence being one of them.

    You could meditate for months to years, you could perform thermal biofeedback. What I like about HeartMath is its immediate accessibiity.

  • Rita

    9/27/2011 10:44:58 AM |

    This is just a housekeeping issue. I used to get your posts via email but not for months now. When I try to re-subscribe, Feedburner says I am already subscribed, but still no posts come to email. Can you get this fixed? Thanks.

  • Makro

    9/28/2011 12:21:30 PM |

    Dr. Davis - OT question:

    When is WB showing up in the Kindle store? Looking forward to giving it a read.

  • MaryB

    9/28/2011 1:11:31 PM |

    This is very interesting information.  It parallels the test they do for Diabetic Neuropathy.  

    If the heartbeats are the same on inhale and exhale you have it pretty bad.  The closer they are to the same, the worse the Neuropathy is found to be.  They use an EKG test and compare the peaks... If I understand correctly.  This sounds like it relates to what you are discussing Dr. Davis... am I correct

  • MaryB

    9/28/2011 1:14:19 PM |

    hmmm did you read the article?  LOL  This is not about constipation but heartbeats.

  • Lance Strish

    9/28/2011 11:41:33 PM |

    DrGreger talked about heart rate variability in 2009 once

  • Dr. William Davis

    9/29/2011 1:02:36 AM |

    Yes, indeed, MaryB: Absolutely correct.

    Diabetes, in particular, can lead to a marked lack of heart rate variability and its health consequences.

  • Dr. William Davis

    9/29/2011 1:03:11 AM |

    Hi, Makro--

    It should already be there. Are you outside the U.S.?

  • Dr. William Davis

    9/29/2011 1:04:56 AM |

    Hi, Rita--

    Sorry. Thought this was fixed.

    I'll have it looked into.

  • Ginger

    1/1/2013 4:16:09 AM |

    Any info on stopping PVC's? I don't do caffiene, very little sugar, i do deep breathing and meditation. I'm dairy free and don't eat gluten.