Give your Heart some Love
I was going to write this last weekend but it seemed like a futile exercise to try to talk about heart health on Super Bowl weekend! I myself indulged in some chips and dips (because no parties over Christmas and New Year's meant I missed out) and some non-dairy ice cream called Revolution (and it is!).
Since heart disease is the top killer of both men and women over 50, everyone should know the risks and how to minimize the likelihood of a life-ending event like a heart attack or stroke. If you have one or more of these risk factors, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to heed the advice of experts on how to lower your chances of heart disease - and by heart disease I mean atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in your blood vessels) which causes heart attacks.
TOP RISK FACTORS:
High blood pressure - Hypertension
High cholesterol - especially LDL cholesterol
Sedentary lifestyle (lack of exercise)
Those are the main risk factors but insulin resistance and inflammation (particularly if your hsCRP, or highly sensitive C reactive protein, is elevated) are also major risk factors.
Amazingly, some of our major medical institutions don't say much about diet and how it relates to reducing incidence of heart disease but there are indications that the right nutrients, including polyphenols, antioxidants and anthocyanins, can help lower inflammation and improve cellular function - including endothelial cell function. Endothelial cells line your arteries so when they are healthy, your blood vessels will be healthy.
For an amazing documentary on why some medical authorities don't advise on dietary changes to improve health, watch What the Health, currently on Netflix. I don't agree with everything that is said in this film but it does reveal what the food industry's impact on large health organizations has been.
That said, a whole foods, mostly plant based diet is definitely helpful in reducing the likelihood of arterial damage. When followed with a low glycemic focus, to prevent elevations in blood sugar and keep your average blood sugar less than 100, a mediterranean type diet can be the best diet for most people trying to prevent heart disease. There are multiple other diets that may be better for your particular situation so consult with your provider to get the best fit for you.
The traditional Mediterranean diet allowed for liberal use of healthy fats like olive oil and nuts (almonds and walnuts mostly) and seeds, lots of fresh fish, locally grown seasonal vegetables and fresh fruit when available. When you get lots of vegetables and fruits in your daily diet you will likely get lots of potassium which is important for heart health.
The Mediterranean diet, tailored for someone with blood sugar issues, should limit starchy vegetables to one or zero servings a day and fruit servings to one or none daily. If you are going to consume grains make sure they are organic whole grains, sprouted if possible. Consult with a nutritionist to make sure your food combinations are low glycemic - we know that high blood sugar is undesirable for heart health.
For meat eaters, pastured poultry can be consumed 4 times a week, grass fed red meat rarely and pastured eggs up to 4 times a week or less. Pastured animals that have not been fed pesticide laden grains are much less inflammatory to our bodies so try to only consume these and avoid factory raised meats. Watch the documentary Food, Inc on Amazon for a taste of how inconvenient fast foods and agribusiness grown meat products really are.
If you have had Covid then you know it is associated with heart disease. This wasn't obvious at first but as more people recovered we discovered that some people have a persistent disease state that may involve the heart. Follow these heart healthy guidelines to support heart health.
Besides the above diet, exercise or just daily movement is also very important for maintaining heart health.
If you work at home particularly, set a timer to remind you to get up and move hourly. If possible, do a HIIT circuit at least 4 mornings a week. HIIT is High Intensity Interval Training. I do a 10 minute routine 4 times a week to protect and improve heart health. Along with the HIIT, regular cardiovascular training (walking, jogging, swimming) and strength training are also beneficial to improving and protecting heart function.
Supplements can also support your heart's cellular function and help with post-Covid heart issues. The following are my top choices for supporting heart health now:
Quercetin 500mg 2-3 times daily
Selenium 200mcg daily
Magnesium 800mg daily (citrate or glycinate)
Hawthorn (I drink the tea shown above) 500mg 3 times a day
CoQ10 300-400mg daily
Vitamin C 2000mg daily
High EPA fish oil 2000mg a day
Nattakinase 150mg daily
Lycopene 15-30 mg a day
Vitamin K2 100mcg or more a day
Vitamin D3 5000IU daily
L-Citrulline 3 gm a day (precursor of L-arginine and improves nitric oxide status and blood flow)
Check here for my heart health protocol supplement list.
One last thing that most people need to do to prevent heart attacks - manage their stress!
When you are stressed your cortisol goes up along with your blood pressure and puts a strain on your heart function. Regularly taking time to lower the demand on your adrenal glands (where cortisol is produced) can help lower cholesterol and cortisol output and improve blood pressure and endothelial function.
Most people don't realize that cholesterol is the parent steroid hormone that is the building block for all of the other steroid hormones, principally cortisol, but also pregnenolone, progesterone, DHEA and testosterone as well. If your stress level rises, your body will naturally make more cholesterol to meet the demand for cortisol so develop a strategy to manage stress. I recommend a daily mindfulness practice.
The simplest practice to begin with is taking deep belly breaths. Begin by inhaling for a count of 5 slowly then hold a couple of seconds and slowly exhale for a count of 5. Repeat for a total of 5 breaths.
It is easier to start a new habit if you link it with another activity so try beginning by doing this practice on waking, each time you eat a meal and just before bedtime. Taking mindful deep breaths helps to diminish the threat mode in which we often find ourselves.
Another option is Insight Timer. I use this free app as a meditation timer or for guided mindfulness meditations. There are literally thousands of meditation options from which to choose on this app. If you are short on time, click on the guided meditation icon and select 0-5 minutes for some short stress busting exercises. Just a few minutes a day, done consistently over time, is enough to decrease adrenal stress.
Last but definitely not least - if you smoke then you are exposing yourself and loved ones to over 50 different carcinogens which are carried around your body on your LDL cholesterol, literally scraping up your blood vessel walls and damaging them. Damaged blood vessels create an environment favorable for plaque formation.
If all you do is quit smoking (or avoid smoke exposure), you will reduce your relative risk of mortality from coronary artery disease by 36%. Lent is just around the corner - give up smoking for your lenten observation.
Back in the day, when I was young and foolish, this is how I stopped smoking. I gave it up for Lent then on Easter weekend I smoked two packs of cigarettes in one day. I was so sick after overdoing it with the cigarettes that I never wanted to smoke again. Be strong, protect your heart - you can do it!