February is National Heart Month- Protect Yourself Against Heart Disease
The heart is an incredible organ, beating over 100,000 times per day, coordinating 4 chambers (2 atrium, 2 ventricles) through an electrical conduction system, delivering blood to every cell in our body. Our heart starts pumping at around 6 weeks in utero, becomes audible on ultrasound at around 12 weeks, and should fully develop shortly after birth. However, the Heart Disease Foundation reports genetic, and especially lifestyle and our environment, as contributors to this organ’s decline, making heart disease (e.g. stroke and other cardiovascular diseases) the leading cause of death for both women, and most racial/ethnic groups. In addition, cardiovascular disease claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined.
The heart also requires arterial strength to support the high-pressure output of blood from the left ventricle (our most muscular chamber) to the whole body, and venous integrity to ensure blood returns back to heart. In other words, our heart adjusts its rate for gravity, altitudes, and when we’re at the gym, to name a few. However, diseases such as hypertension, or conditions that clogs up the arteries (e.g. coronary artery disease) and affect the heart directly (e.g. valvular disorders), can alter both the heart’s form and impede efficiency. As a result, complications may include the possibility for dangerous complications, such as stroke or heart attack.
Fortunately, there is a wide range of strategies you can include in your lifestyle to help prevent against heart disease and it’s complications. Efforts include exercise, eating healthy, and taking supplements, which are best prioritized as part of an individualized treatment plan.
Exercise at least 30 minutes per day, and stand for a few minutes every 30 minutes – 1 hour.
You don’t even have to belong to a gym. Walking to the grocery store, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, are all ways of obtaining those 30 minutes at the very minimum. Want even more cardiovascular endurance? Research is now all about high intensity interval training (HIIT), which also increases fat burning and improving glucose metabolism. Even if you already have heart disease, HIIT has demonstrated more physiological benefits than moderate intensity continuous training (e.g. treadmill at similar levels/incline for 45 minutes) (Weston et al., 2013).
Weston, K.S., Wisloff, U., & Coombes, J.S. (2013). High-intensity interval training in patients with lifestyle-induced cardiometabolic disease: a systematic review and meta analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 48 (16): 1227– 1234.
Eat a healthy diet
Skittles’ slogan, “Taste the rainbow” should only apply to fruits and vegetables, which will fill your plate, then your body, with more vitamins and minerals than you can imagine. Hippocrates told us to let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food, so fill up with vegetables, fruit, wild caught fish, grass fed meats and poultry, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, avocado (1 per day can lower cholesterol), and a piece of 72% or higher dark chocolate. Healthy food will soon become your new craving if you consistently provide yourself with these foods.
Take care of your mouth
Oral hygiene has been linked to heart disease, as many of the conditions are propagated by the same habits that contribute to heart disease. Brush at least twice a day with toothpaste free of fluoride, sodium lauryl sulfate, and carrageenan, and floss daily.
Take care of any emotional stress
The heart not only provides for us physically, but as humans in a social environment we experience a wide variety of emotions. As we hold onto certain toxic emotions, hate, anger, guilt, or pain, our heart holds these too. Talk to friends, family, take some deep breaths, and learn to de-stress. Your heart will thank you.
-Hawthorn is a unique cardio-protective herb, in that it reduces both the physical and emotional stress on the heart. It contains antioxidants, and acts to increase blood flow through the heart and strengthen the muscle without increasing the rate or raising blood pressure. Emotionally, hawthorn serves as a shock remedy, for those feeling overburdened by the world. Caution with hypotensive drugs.
-CoQ10 is a natural substance found in the body, but extra helpings aid to improve energy, as well as certain conditions such as hypertension, heart failure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and gum disease. However, this nutrient can be depleted by statins.
-B-vitamins help reduce the risk and complications of cardiovascular disease by eliminating homocysteine (a heart disease marker), reducing cholesterol levels, lowering risk of stroke, and may help neuropathies.
Talk to your doctor first before starting on any supplements to obtain proper dosages, and to ensure there isn’t any drug/herb/nutrient interaction.
You got this! Start off where you can integrate these into your lifestyle enough to make it a habit, and then supplement when needed- why they’re called ‘supplements’.