Launch a preemptive strike against heart disease with these simple prevention strategies.
As a society, we’ve been battling heart disease for decades, but we don’t seem to be making much progress. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 735,000 Americans suffer a heart attack and 610,000 die from cardiovascular disease every year. Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death for both men and women.
Have we been neglecting this condition? Hardly. The medical community has been aggressively developing solutions: stents, angioplasties, and medications to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, to name just a few. Each year, new therapies promise to reduce our cardiovascular risk, but they rarely make much of a dent.
While some therapies extend life and improve quality of life, we are running up against a fundamental biological truth: after a heart attack, there are no cures. At that point, damaged muscle cannot be repaired.Our best hope is to reduce future risks.
An Ounce of Prevention
The Western lifestyle has often been called a “deathstyle,” and that’s really not far from the truth. We eat too much and exercise too little. We sit for long periods and are chronically dehydrated. We work high-stress jobs and multitask even during sleep it seems. No wonder we’re plagued with chronic illnesses.
The good news is, switching from a draining and depleting lifestyle to one of nourishment and self-care simply requires some key adjustments. At first they may seem daunting, but in the end, these changes are easier—and far more rewarding—than dealing with medicationside effects and frequent doctor appointments.
No. 1: De-Stress
Stress. It’s everywhere these days. There’s job, family, health, national, and world crises to worry about, along with a host of smaller, daily stressors. Some of these can be moderated; others we’re stuck with. But the issue is less about stress than how we react to it. Some research indicates that people who feel their stress carries meaning, as in work that is stressful but fulfilling, show signs of good cardiovascular health. For these people, the meaning they associate with stressful situations protects them from burn-out.
Whether we feel energized or burdened by stress, we can all benefit from having an anti-stress regimen built into our lifestyle. This could be meditation, long walks in nature, quality time with friends, music and art therapy, breathing exercises, or sitting by candlelight. The important thing is to identify what helps us decompress, and take action.
No. 2: Get Up, Stand Up
Sitting for long periods is being called the “new smoking.” Our bodies aren’t built to sit continuously. If we notice we’ve been sitting too long, it’s time to take a lap around the office. The health rewards are significant.
This leads us to regular exercise. Our bodies love activity, and it doesn’t have to be strenuous. Several studies show that a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day can have a remarkable impact on health.
In addition to improving heart health, regular exercise boosts immunity, improves glucose metabolism, and has a profound impact on our state of mind. I’m also a big believer in moving meditations such as yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi. These ancient mind-body practices provide the double benefit of improving physical fitness while calming and centering our minds.
No. 3: Stay Hydrated
A heart-healthy diet that emphasizes fewer calories and anti-inflammatory foods, healthy fats, and lots of fresh vegetables is important. Proper hydration is equally vital for heart health, although it is commonly overlooked as a preventive strategy. Many of us are chronically dehydrated, which increases blood viscosity and makes the heart work harder. Aim to drink half of your weight in ounces a day. For example, this would mean that a 150-lb. person should drink 75 oz. of water daily.
No. 4: Take Heart-healthy Supplements
Calcium and Magnesium
Many people, particularly women, supplement with calcium to prevent osteoporosis. This is not necessarily a bad practice, but we need to be careful about it. The same calcium that strengthens bones can also harden arteries, particularly if it’s a less-bioavailable form. Calcium citrate is easier for the body to absorb than other forms like calcium carbonate. It’s also critical to take magnesium, which is a natural calcium channel blocker and can balance the mineral’s effects. When taking calcium, be sure to take an equal amount of magnesium as well.
Some research shows that resveratrol is linked to a reduced risk of inflammation and blood clotting.
I also recommend vitamin K2. Research shows higher intakes of vitamin K2 correspond to less calcium deposition in the aorta. Other heart-healthy nutrients include A, B, C, D3, and E.
There is also a variety of nutraceutical supplements that are gaining recognition as important heart-health agents. One in particular is modified citrus pectin (MCP), a specialized form of citrus pectin that has been modified for absorption into the blood stream. MCP controls an inflammatory protein called galectin-3. In 2011 the Food and Drug Administration approved a galectin-3 blood test to assess heart failure risk.
Galectin-3 is a rather insidious protein that has been implicated in cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other conditions. It has been shown to play a role in cardiac remodeling and fibrosis, both aspects of heart disease. Several recent studies show that MCP controls the effects of excess galectin-3 to protect cardiovascular health.
I also recommend herbal formulas that can offer support for circulation and cardiovascular health, immunity, and other areas. Look for ingredients such as Icelandic moss, neem, and other powerful antioxidant-rich botanicals.
The Blended Approach
Too often, people focus on a single lifestyle change—diet, for example—hoping it will bring comprehensive results. I think we can agree this is often wishful thinking. Lifestyle means everything: how we eat, how we sleep, how and where we work, how we handle our stress. Cardiovascular disease is a big-picture condition, and we need to take a big-picture approach.
However, it’s not always easy. Isaac Newton noted that objects in motion tend to remain in motion, while objects at rest tend to remain at rest. For anyone who has been “at rest” for decades, changing their diet, exercising, reducing stress, or incorporating supplements can be difficult at first.
But don’t forget the other part of the formula. Once we are in motion, once we’ve begun making these changes, it becomes integrated into our daily lives. Change can be challenging, but ask any patient with congestive heart failure: If they could go back and make different choices concerning their lifestyle habits, they would most likely do it.
HEART HEALTHY EATS
Foods high in chromium. Green beans are good source of chromium, a heart-protective nutrient that improves insulin sensitivity and helps the body metabolize cholesterol. Other food sources of chromium include broccoli, potatoes, orange juice, and turkey. Studies have shown that 200 mcg per day can reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes; that’s hard to get from foods, so take a chromium picolinate supplement for insurance. While you’re at it, toss in a handful of chopped broccoli—eating more vegetables can reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 22 percent.
Sardines. They’re high in omega-3 essential fatty acids that help prevent clotting, reduce inflammation, and lower blood pressure. Wild (not farmed) salmon and tuna are also good sources of omega-3s, but because they’re small, sardines tend to have fewer toxins than these larger fish. If you’re not a fish fan, use supplements. The American Heart Association recommends taking about 1 gm (1,000 mg) of omega-3s per day.
Beans. Fiber-rich beans help to lower cholesterol. In some studies, people who ate four or more servings of beans each week reduced their risk of heart disease by more than 20 percent.
Honey. Steer clear of high-glycemic foods in general, and swap sugar for honey in small amounts. Studies have shown that honey contains antioxidants that can protect the heart from damage. Look for raw honey that hasn’t been heat-pasteurized.
Foods high in magnesium. Spinach is high in magnesium, which reduces platelet clumping, lowers blood pressure, and regulates heart rhythms. Brussels sprouts, pumpkin seeds, Swiss chard, and fish are other good sources. Or take magnesium supplements to ensure you’re getting enough. Dosage recommendations range from 400 to 1,000 mg per day.
Indian food. It’s rich in heart-healthy ginger, garlic, and turmeric, the spice that gives curry its color. Turmeric contains curcuminoids, which can reduce inflammation and prevent atherosclerosis, and may lower total cholesterol. Not an Indian-food fan? Take turmeric capsules; dosages range from 600 to 1,200 mg per day standardized to 90 percent or more curcuminoids.
Nuts. Almonds and walnuts are often touted for their heart-health benefits, but peanuts may be even better. They’re rich in monounsaturated fats, which regulate cholesterol levels and blood pressure. In one study, people who ate peanuts lowered their LDL and total cholesterol levels and increased their HDL without making any other dietary changes. Macadamia nuts also have heart-protective effects.
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