In her new book, heart surgeon Dr Nikki Stamp explores how modern medicine is only beginning to understand the connection between body and emotion
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy commonly known as broken heart syndrome is rare but real. As a heart and lung surgeon, Dr Nikki Stamp has seen a few cases herself, and the phenomenon provides a compelling opening chapter to her first book, Can You Die of a Broken Heart? The title reminds us of when Debbie Reynolds died of a broken heart the day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, passed away in 2016, but this book rises far above the online pseudoscience accompanying those reports. It is possible to be so affected by grief or shock that a predisposed heart simply cannot cope, and Stamp uses this as an opener to explore the myriad ways modern medicine is only recently understanding (and admitting) to the connection between body and emotion.
Weve sort of come full circle in terms of emotion and health, Stamp says. When early physicians were discovering organs and the body, they actually thought the heart was the centre of emotion, because it was warm and hot and thats where the idea of being hot-blooded came from. And then we got kind of cold and clinical; that your emotions come from the brain, that your emotional state has nothing to do with your physical state, and now weve come full circle and were starting to encompass a more holistic view of health.
Relationships are a great example. There is a trend to suggest that the risk of dying is higher after the loss of someone important and close to you, Stamp says. Conversely, she says, both romantic and platonic relationships are hugely beneficial. Theres a lot of positive physiology and positive actions that happen in the body when youre in a relationship. When you have social connection and emotional connection, it seems that our brains recognise that as something that means youre healthy.