Excerpted from "Matrix Healing" with permission from Harmony Books.

It is bile that consumes the arteries and ultimately all the organs.
--The Zohar

The Zohar and modern medical opinion agree: to properly understand heart disease, we can't stop with the heart or even with the circulatory system--we have to go on to the liver, the producer of bile and the site of toxins and free radicals.

The liver's job is to purify toxins from the blood. Anything impure or indigestible in our food gets filtered out by the liver, which is also charged with detoxifying the poisons from alcohol, cigarette smoke, recreational drugs, prescription medications, additives, preservatives, pollution, toxic fumes, and an excess of processed sugar. The liver is also responsible for metabolizing fat and turning it into various types of cholesterol.

For most of human history, people had relatively low-fat diets, consumed only natural foods, avoided tobacco, and used alcohol and drugs only on ceremonial occasions. In those days, the liver had a relatively easy job. In our modern society, however, virtually everything we eat, drink, and breathe contains some ingredient that stresses the liver. Because the liver is also charged with clearing excess estrogen from the body, women with overstressed livers are vulnerable to osteoporosis, weight gain, and problems with menstrual cycles and menopause. And all of us are subject to the inflammation that can result from toxins in the blood.

Remember, our liver's job is to metabolize fat and remove toxins from the bloodstream, so that they can be discharged through urination. When our livers aren't working efficiently-overstressed by excess fat, sugar, pollution, medications, and additives-too many toxins remain in our bloodstream, causing inflammation and helping to create the free radicals that lead to disease and aging. Excess toxins also tend to spill over into the bile, giving rise to the Zohar's comment.

So far, we're entirely in the territory of medical science. But in Matrix Healing, we understand that every part of the human body has an emotional and spiritual dimension as well as a physical one. In Kabbalah, the liver-and a related organ, the spleen-are the seat of reactive emotions. The liver is the seat of anger, jealousy, and hatred, while the spleen is the site of fear, anxiety, and doubt. This emotional anatomy shows us that there's a relationship between a weakened, toxic liver and reactive responses. Whenever we greet a life situation with anger, jealousy, or hatred, we impair our liver's ability to detoxify our blood. Whenever we respond with fear, anxiety, or doubt, we weaken our spleen, which in turn weakens our liver.

Of course, medical science has also caught up with Matrix Healing [a kabbalistic approach to medicine, focusing on spiritual as well as physical aspects of illness] here, at least to some extent. These reactive emotions-lumped in a general way under the heading of "stress"-are well known to cause problems for our bodies, and have been related to heart disease, cancer, ulcers, colitis, migraine, and a host of other inflammatory diseases. From a kabbalistic perspective, however, it's not simply stress-a challenge to the body-that creates the problem. It's reactivity-responding as weak and passive beings, rather than as powerful, creative Vessels of the Light. Thus, our health does not require us to avoid stress, but only to avoid reactive responses to stress. When we can replace reactive responses with proactive choices, meeting life's challenges with serenity and joy, we strengthen our livers, reduce the number of free radicals within our system, and decrease the inflammatory responses that lead to heart disease, cancer, asthma, and other diseases.

When I explained this to [one of my patients,] Randolph, he became very excited. Having read about Type A personalities and the role of stress in heart disease, he had worried that caring for his health meant withdrawing from his high-pressure job and choosing a more peaceful existence, which he sardonically referred to as "a boring little house in the country." He loved his work, though, and he was overjoyed to realize that he didn't have to leave his job or even necessarily cut back his hours. Rather, he had to change his attitude toward his work and the stresses it created.

I told Randolph that changing his diet would almost certainly improve the health of his heart. Cutting back on hydrogenated and saturated fats would relieve the stress on his liver, as would giving up processed sugar. In kabbalistic terms, I told him, consuming processed sugar represents Receiving for the Self Alone, so it's no wonder that too much sugar raises levels of triglycerides-fats-in the blood and increases the risk of heart disease.