The next time you go to break up with someone, be gentle. A broken heart is a real thing. The heart muscle weakens, mimicking a heart attack, even though the person may not have had the risk factors for heart disease.

A broken heart can cause abnormal EKGs, elevation of heart enzymes (which means heart cells are actually exploding apart), and even skyrocket the production of inflammatory molecules, which threaten immune health. Any stressful situation (especially if you are prone to anxiety anyway)— the loss of a love, the death of a friend, the betrayal of a business partner, getting fired—can bring on chest pain, cellular heart reactions, and/or huge sudden surges of stress hormones. Certain parts of the heart enlarge and don’t pump and contract like they normally do. Other parts contract even more than usual. The heart actually goes topsy turvy. It’s all connected. An emotional broken heart plays havoc with the physical body.

Broken heart syndrome has been called many names, takotsubo cardiomyopathy, stress cardiomyopathy, stress-induced cardiomyopathy, or apical ballooning syndrome. All are legal diagnoses that can be turned in for insurance reimbursement. (Nurse Practitioners 2012, Medical Glas Lnek komore Zenicko-doboj kantona 2012, Journal of Nepal Health, Research Council 201)2 The University of Michigan, my Alma mater, is also looking at how our emotional spirits, as well as our physical molecules, are affected by loss, rejection, and a sense of humiliation, especially when caused by people we view as important in our lives.

Science is finding that humans do not an island make. We are not isolated unto ourselves. Rather, we exist in a flowing interchange between ourselves and our environment, especially as relates to our hearts. The University of Michigan tracked young women and found that sprained spirits, secondary to stressful life events like a broken heart, upregulated inflammatory molecules that tamped down immune function. True stress—being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, anticipated bereavement, a nasty divorce, financial worries, traumatic life events—all gain access into our genes and can boost the expression of pro-inflammatory immune genes that worm holes through our protective barriers through which we interact with our world. (Clinical Psychological Science 2012) But the great news is that the body is designed to heal. The broken heart syndrome is a transitory situation. A physically broken heart can heal within a week, or it can take months or even possibly years. It depends on how long the perceived emotional pain continues. (This highlights how perceptions are everything, and, in fact, perceptions are some of our most insidious addictions). But a damaged heart, body, or a wrenched spirit, with the perception that you are ready and can now let go of your suffering, and you actually do so, can all be rebooted and made whole again. The take home is, be gentle with yourself when your heart is aching, it’s real. And also strive to be gentle with those that perceive that you’re causing them heartache. With the tincture of time, kindness, nutrients, rest, introspection and the power of healthy food, achy, hurting hearts can heal like new. This is the generosity of nature and the miraculous triumph of life in every cell on every level.