Look to your brain to see what's going on with your heart

You've heard the phrase "stress kills." But perhaps you didn't take it literally.

As a matter of fact, it may be time to take stress a little more seriously when it comes to your health -- because a recent breakthrough study has just drawn a direct line from stress to heart disease, America's number one killer.

The first of its kind, this study used MRI technology to observe brain activity, which researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School correlated with the subjects' health.

After looking at folks' brain scans over the course of several years, they found that those who had cardiovascular events (like heart attack and stroke) showed a corresponding activity in the area of the brain that's active under stress (called the "amygdala").

Other new research has found a link between the amygdala and bone marrow activity -- specifically, bone marrow producing white blood cells that can attack healthy tissue, producing inflammation in arteries and elsewhere.

We don't yet know all of the connections that exist between the mind and the body. But these latest findings show a distinctly physical manifestation of something you may have written off as a purely emotional response.

No matter what anybody tells you, stress isn't just "in your head." It's actually lighting up certain areas of your brain -- and it may be affecting your heart.

Now, a lot of mainstream docs will suggest antidepressants, but stress and depression are actually two different beasts!

So, before you hop on that pharmacological bandwagon, try some safe, natural stress-busters first.

Exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet can do wonders to slash stress -- and support your immune system.

Try to get your body moving every day. Even if it's just walking for 10 to 15 minutes, any amount of physical activity is better than none.

Exercise reduces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, stimulates mood-boosting endorphins... and helps you sleep better. It's a great way to prepare your body and mind for your nightly 7 to 8 hours of Z's.

Did you know that your mood -- including anxiety and stress levels -- is also influenced by the balance of "good" versus "bad" strains of bacteria that live in your gut?

Keep your microbiome healthy with probiotic foods like yogurt, sour pickles, sauerkraut, miso, and kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage). You can also find a probiotic supplement at a pharmacy or health food store.

When you add beneficial bacteria to your gut with probiotics, make sure you feed and nurture your bacteria friends with plant-based fiber -- think broccoli, cabbage, beans, and berries.

And a natural regimen of vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, iron, selenium, and magnesium can also help knock out stress and fatigue.

Some folks get a lot out of meditation or prayer, too. I say do whatever works for you -- in the physical OR metaphysical realm.

Study finds how stress raises heart disease and stroke risk