01 Feb Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Heart disease remains the number one killer in the United States. It kills more than the next seven causes of death (including cancer) combined! The American Heart Association reports that as many as one third of cardiovascular deaths could be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices. Heart disease may not present with symptoms until late in its course. It is therefore important to monitor your health through regular check-ups and to maintain healthy lifestyle habits throughout life. This edition of our newsletter discusses preventive strategies and testing for keeping you “Heart Healthy”.
Below are some important preventive measures which are helpful in decreasing the risk of heart disease:
If you smoke, quit today!
Cigarettes are estimated to cause one in five deaths from cardiovascular disease. Second-hand smoke is also a major contributor to cardiovascular disease and death. Smoking increases blood pressure and plaque buildup in arteries. It also decreases levels of HDL (the protective cholesterol). Limit exposure to second-hand smoke as much as possible. If you are a smoker, seek help in quitting. Even reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke on a daily basis will help.
Eat a balanced, nutrient-rich, varied diet:
Limit the consumption of meats, especially red meats. If you do eat meat choose lean cuts (skinless turkey or chicken breasts are lowest in fat), and trim any excess fat. Refrigerating meat after it cooks may also provide an opportunity to skim the excess fat off the surface of the meat dish.
Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods including legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Soluble fiber helps to lower cholesterol and reduces risk of heart disease.
Focus on “heart-healthy fats” such as those monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, and polyunsaturated fats, especially those found in cold-water fish, flax seeds, and walnuts. Avoid trans fats and hydrogenated fats (such as those in margarine and shortening), and limit saturated fats. Consider an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement. (For more information about fats in the diet, see our December 2006 newsletter).
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Along with fiber, plant-based diets offer phytonutrients which can help to prevent heart disease. Focus on deeply-colored fruits and vegetables (like berries, greens, cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes, carrots, squash, yams, etc).
Whole grains also provide plenty of fiber and are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients which can also lower the risk of heart disease.
Several foods offer specific protection against ailments of the cardiovascular system. These include garlic, onions, celery, soy, tea, and omega-3 rich fish.
Try new foods and avoid eating the same foods on a consistent basis. Variety in your diet is key to ensuring that you get a complete complement of vitamins and minerals which are essential to heart health.
Control your blood sugar. Poor control of blood sugar, insulin resistance, and diabetes all increase the risk of heart disease. Stay away from processed foods (sugar, flour, sweets, breads, cakes, etc) which raise blood sugar rapidly. Eat a small amount of protein (mostly from vegetarian sources) with your meals and snacks to maintain healthy, regulated blood sugar.
Work on controlling your weight. I tell my patients to follow the 80%-20% rule. 80% of the time, one should practice control and balance in eating, 20% of the time, you can allow yourself to indulge. Infrequent indulgence should be guilt and stress-free… After all, chocolate is heart-healthy too!
Many physicians believe that stress is the number one cause of ill-health and its effects on heart health are no exception. Controlling your stress levels and finding productive ways to relieve stress are vital to preventing heart disease.
Find a stress-buster that works for you. You may want to try meditation, yoga, tai chi, or progressive muscle relaxation. Journaling and deep breathing exercises may also be helpful to you.
If you have very high stress levels, you may consider cognitive therapy or biofeedback to teach you to control your thoughts and your body’s responses to stressful situations.
Find some time for yourself. Make a list of things you’d like to do for yourself every day. Include small accomplishments (like flossing your teeth, or taking a bath). Doing something for yourself, no matter how seemingly small, is a great way to de-compress and give yourself a lift after a long day.
Exercise is helpful in controlling weight, strengthening the heart muscle, lowering your LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) and increasing your HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”). Exercise may also help to dissolve small blood clots. In addition, exercise is a primary stress-reliever for many people.
Start with at least 20 minutes three times a week. Aim to combine aerobic and resistance training. You should be working out at 80% of your maximum heart rate. This is basically the level at which you can talk, but would not be able to sing.
Formal exercise programs (exercise classes, treadmill workouts, weight lifting, etc), are very beneficial but you should also aim to increase your activity level in general. Walk instead of driving, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further from the door at the mall, dance around the living room with your children, turn cleaning your house into a workout by putting on some tunes and really pushing that vacuum around!
Many natural products can be beneficial in promoting heart health. These include: calcium, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, folic acid, CoQ10, Vitamin E and C, and essential fatty acids. Of course, a multivitamin is helpful in ensuring you get a full complement of nutrients every day. (See our January 2007 newsletter regarding selecting supplements).
Herbs and homeopathic remedies can also be helpful in preventing and treating heart disease.
As with all natural products, it is best to seek advice of a nutritionist or physician before taking supplements.
Monitoring your heart health:
Have your blood pressure measured at least once a year.
Assess your body mass index (BMI), and or your waist-to-hip ratio annually. Body fat, and especially abdominal fat, can serve as an indication of your heart disease risk.
Assess your blood glucose especially if you are over-weight, have a family or personal history of diabetes, or have a personal history of gestational diabetes.
Monitor your cholesterol and triglycerides on a regular basis.
You may also consider testing your homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid in the blood which, if elevated, can indicate increased risk for heart disease.
There are other tests (ECG, stress test, test for calcium artery calcification, etc) which may be recommended by your physician depending on your health history and risk factors.
I propose making February the month for preventing broken hearts… Here’s to your heart health!
Please Note: This information is for educational purposes only. Consultation with a licensed health care practitioner is recommended for anyone suffering from a health ailment. You are free to use the information in this newsletter or pass it on to others, but please keep it intact and credit it to Dr. Leat Kuzniar, ND.