The power of voodoo
Can the mind kill the heart?
This is not strictly a romantic question—especially not when it comes up at the annual meeting of an organization with a name like the Heart Failure Society of America.
However, research presented at the group’s annual meeting in Boston last week showed that, indeed, extremely frightening events can cause people’s bodies to send a flood of neurotransmitters into the heart, triggering sudden death. Harvard physiologist Dr. Walter B. Cannon coined the term “fight or flight” in 1915, but other research led him in 1942 to postulate a condition known as “voodoo death,” in which extremely scary events can scare people to death.
Last week, Harvard neurology professor Dr. Martin Samuels presented new research at the 15th annual Heart Failure meeting in Boston showing that in rare cases the brain is capable of producing a toxic flood of norepinephrine that triggers takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or sudden death, when it reaches the heart.
Although most people survive such reactions, some don’t. “I found this level of reaction in individuals attacked by a bear or experiencing an earthquake,” Samuels was quoted as saying in promotions for the Boston conference. “They are killed on the spot because in a fraction of a second this overdose of neurochemicals into the heart can be life-threatening.”
Voodoo death? That’s scary!