In a recent report by the Alzheimer’s Association, it was revealed that over 6 million people in America are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This devastating disease slowly erodes the minds of people we love and care for, but a ray of hope has emerged from a groundbreaking study by researchers at the University of Southern California that suggests heart coherence training may offer help to millions of individuals and potentially reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Heart coherence refers to a specific rhythmic pattern of heart rate variability (HRV), which is the variation in the time intervals between heartbeats – the beat-to-beat changes. To achieve heart coherence, individuals are guided to consciously slow their breathing while using heart rhythm biofeedback developed by HeartMath to increase their coherence score. This randomized clinical trial found that daily heart rate variability biofeedback practice sessions reduced amyloid beta plaque in the bloodstream of healthy younger and older adults. The findings were published in both Nature Scientific Reports on March 9, 2023, and in The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association on June 16, 2023.
Study Reveals a Potential Intervention for Alzheimer’s
Dr. Mara Mather, principal investigator of the study, utilized HeartMath’s emWave® Pro software and sensor to train participants in slow-paced coherence breathing. Participants were divided into two groups: one group practiced slow-paced breathing at the cardiovascular resonant frequency of 0.1 HZ, also known as the coherence frequency, to increase heart rate oscillations. The emWave Pro software and sensor provided real-time HRV biofeedback, enabling participants to optimize their breathing technique. The other group used individualized strategies to reduce heart rate oscillations.
Heart Coherence Breathing Reduced Alzheimer’s Biomarkers
Dr. Mara Mather commented on the study: “Our research indicates that slow-paced breathing exercises combined with HRV biofeedback training decreases plasma levels of Aβ (Amyloid Beta). In healthy adults, higher plasma Aβ levels are associated with higher risk of AD (Alzheimer’s Disease) as well as cardiovascular death.”
Rollin McCraty, Ph.D., director of research at the HeartMath Institute, expressed his excitement about the study’s findings, stating that they were remarkable and encouraging. He commended Dr. Mara Mather for conducting the research and expressed the institute’s desire to see further work in this area. McCraty stated: “The study demonstrated a significant link between increased heart coherence and reduced biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, opening up avenues for further investigation. The precedent set by this initial research confirmed and validated the efficacy of HRV coherence training in helping prevent or lessen the effects of this debilitating condition.”
Another study using HRV Coherence Biofeedback for Cognitive Health
Multiple research studies point to chronic stress as a significant contributor to cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease. As such, interventions focused on mitigating stress and enhancing emotional and mental well-being may help to preserve our cognitive faculties as we age. While breakthroughs in treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s remain somewhat elusive, an earlier study titled “Precision Medicine Approach to Alzheimer’s Disease: Successful Pilot Project” also utilized HeartMath HRV coherence biofeedback (Inner Balance™ Trainer portable technology) for participants to manage stress as part of their intervention. This study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2022, also reported promising results, including a reduction of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.
HeartMath Institute has had an ongoing focus on optimal functioning research since its founding more than three decades ago. In the 1990s, HeartMath researchers made an important discovery: Intentionally invoking positive emotions is one of the fastest and most effective ways to reduce unhealthy stress. Emotions such as appreciation, care, compassion, and love have been shown to increase heart coherence, lower stress, and enhance cognitive functions, including memory and focus. HeartMath’s tools to increase heart coherence have also been found to help improve memory.
“Research has shown that sustained positive emotions lead to a highly efficient and regenerative functional mode associated with increased coherence in heart-rhythm patterns and greater synchronization between and harmony heart and brain and among physiological systems,” McCraty wrote. For more understanding, see Heart Rhythm Coherence – An Emerging Area of Biofeedback.
Prospect for Non-Drug Strategies to Maintain Cognitive Health
As we face an anticipated surge in the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, interventions which aim to reduce stress by enhancing heart coherence and invoking positive emotions will become all the more crucial. While coherence won’t cure Alzheimer’s, it can significantly contribute to reducing one of its major risk factors – chronic stress – thus offering an empowering way to help people preserve their cognitive health and reduce key biomarkers associated with Alzheimers disease.
HeartMath Institute President Sara Childre is among the millions of people who have been touched by Alzheimer’s: “My father had Alzheimer’s for eight years. It is a tough disease. He was quite brilliant, had an economics degree, and was a three-star general in the Marines. It was so disheartening to see his cognitive functions just melt away. I do believe all the stressors of wars – WWII, the Korean War, and two tours in Vietnam – added to the severity of the disease.”
HeartMath is providing hope that with further research we can discover more powerful non-drug strategies for managing stress and preserving cognitive health in our aging society. The Institute’s research continues to push the boundaries of science and shed new light on the intricate relationship between our heart, brain, and overall health and wellness.
- Team of researchers led by Mara Mather, Professor of Gerontology and Psychology at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
- Clinical trial funded by the US National Institute of Health.
- Independent research – HeartMath not involved.
- Reveals how just 4-5 weeks of practicing slow-paced/coherence breathing using HeartMath’s HRV biofeedback has measurable benefits on brain health, structure, and function.
- These benefits should help protect the brain against premature aging and dementia.
- So far, the team has published 3 peer-reviewed papers, covering 3 randomized controlled trials.
- WHO estimates that 78m people worldwide will have dementia by 2030, rising to over 150m people by 2050.
- Currently, Alzheimer’s contributes 60-70% of all dementia cases globally.
- Alzheimer’s is the 7th largest cause of death globally and the 2nd largest in the UK and USA.
- NHS estimates 1 in 14 people over 65 and 1 in 6 people over 80 are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and 1 in 20 people are under 65.
- There are no “cures” for dementia or Alzheimer’s, but there are ways we can reduce the risk and potentially slow progression. HeartMath can help!