Along with being the month of love and Valentine’s day, February is, appropriately enough, heart health month. It is during this month that we try and raise awareness of the dangers of heart disease, the number one killer in the United States. What’s frustrating about this statistic, is that cardiovascular disease is a completely preventable and manageable disease through healthy living and lifestyle practices. Just a little bit of effort can go such a long way.
To do my bit to spread the word on how to prevent and manage heart disease, I thought I’d share some simple guidelines to help you get your heart health in order. Additionally, I’ve included blood tests that you can ask your doctor to run for you so that you can begin to assess how your heart is holding up. I encourage you to take this information to, ahem, heart… no pun intended. It can make all the difference to your future heart health.
Healthy Lifestyles for a Healthy Heart
In order to enjoy and maintain a healthy heart, one must focus on lifestyle factors as a primary consideration. Your first line of defense in regards to your heart health is not Lipitor. That should be your very last option. Health begins with your daily habits; the foods you eat, the things you drink, your exercise routine. Do you smoke? Because if you do you are increasing the likelihood of developing one or more of the risk factors for heart disease outlined in this blog. If you smoke, let this be the year you stop. If you do nothing else, like change your diet or begin to exercise, quit smoking. It is the single most life saving act you can perform. Do it now!
For those of you that don’t smoke and are ready to take charge of your health, your first line of defense in protecting your heart is refining your diet. If you eat junk food, stop. Sugary and refined foods will make you gain weight, promote inflammation in the body and may pre-dispose you to developing diabetes, a disease that almost always leads to heart disease. Snack on nuts, seeds, fruit and raw vegetables. In fact, load up on as many vegetables you can stand. Add them to your omelets in the morning, roast them and toss into a salad or make a big pot of soup and add all the great, health enhancing vegetables you can find such as Bok Choy, cabbage, leeks, and spinach. For examples of vegetable serving sizes and ways to sneak them into your meals, check out this back-issue of my newsletter ‘Elements’. If you find that eating enough vegetables is a practice that eludes you then get a high quality green powder such as Greens First. Each serving is the equivalent of ten servings of vegetables. Consuming plenty of green food will not only provide phyto-nutrients and antioxidants for a healthy heart, but will help alkalinize your system, thereby reducing inflammation in the body and help with the detoxification process.
Exercise is another important aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Try to get in 30 minutes of concentrated exercise four times a week. If you live in the city, walk as much as you can, everywhere you go. Get a treadmill, join a gym or begin a yoga practice. Any practice that gets you up and moving would be beneficial. Shut off the TV and engage in your life. Sitting on a couch watching fake people in made up circumstances is sapping your energy and taking away time that could be spent more productively. Get moving and watch your energy increase, your sleep improve and your waistline shrink. It is absolutely one of the most important aspects of a healthy lifestyle.
Cardiac Risk Factors
Most people are very familiar with the dangers of an elevated cholesterol. You may have hyperlipidemia yourself or perhaps a member of your family has it. Either way, you are probably aware that certain foods and behaviors should be modified in order to protect you from this cardiovascular scourge. You may limit your consumption of saturated fats such as beef and bacon. Perhaps you’ve incorporated exercise to your health care regimen. These are all good and beneficial behaviors. Unfortunately, modifying your cholesterol is only one aspect of cardiac health – one that is focused on to be sure, but not the only one that matters.
The following is a brief outline of these risk factors and practical ways to help keep them under control.
Healthy Cholesterol Levels and Blood Pressure: Much has been written in regards to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and controlling blood pressure. These are important risk factors and should not be over looked. Cholesterol levels should not exceed 200 mg/dl. To minimize the risk of a cardiac event, it is now recommended that of that total cholesterol, the “bad”, LDL cholesterol should not exceed 100 mg/dl. Diet is an important part of this plan because the consumption of saturated fats such as cheese, cream, bacon and beef have shown to elevate LDL cholesterol. As important as watching the bad cholesterol, it is vital to increase the “good”, HDL cholesterol. The way to do this is to limit the consumption of refined carbohydrates such as sugar, cakes, cookies, breads and pasta that may increase your triglyceride levels (another component of cholesterol). Triglycerides and HDL have an inverse relationship so as triglycerides go up, HDL goes down, exposing the person to greater risk. Another way to elevate HDL is to exercise. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking four times a week should be sufficient. HDL levels should exceed 40mg/dl, but ideally it should be higher. Blood pressure is often the first sign of potential cardiac problems and is also manageable through diet and exercise. Watch your salt consumption but also watch your intake of refined carbohydrates, which have also been implicated in elevated blood pressure. Exercise is one of the best practices for the stabilization of blood pressure as is the management of stress. Stress lands in the chest and often the first sign is a spike in blood pressure. Supplements that help in maintaining blood pressure include Co Enzyme Q10 and the amino acid Taurine.
Cardiac C-Reactive Protein: Recent studies have confirmed what we’ve known for a long time: inflammation is a precursor to heart disease. Recently, the American Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a joint statement about using inflammatory markers when assessing potential cardiac risk. They were specifically referring to high sensitive or cardiac C Reactive Protein, an inflammatory protein marker that increases when there is inflammation in the body, or in this case, specifically the cardiovascular system. When going for your physical and blood work up be sure that your doctor tests for this important risk factor. Ideally, levels should be no greater than 2.5 mg/dl (levels of 3 show moderate risk of heart disease). In order to keep inflammation under control, eat an alkalinizing diet which includes plenty of greens and other vegetables; supplement with Omega 3 fish oils which have shown to reduce total body inflammation; and more specifically, supplement your diet with plenty of ginger and turmeric. Both have demonstrated tremendous anti-inflammatory properties and can be a tasty way to manage heart health.
Homocysteine: Homocysteine is an amino acid made by the body. As we age, this amino acid often becomes elevated potentially leading to atherosclerosis (blockages in the arteries) by oxidizing cholesterol. In addition, homocysteine can also make blood clot more readily possibly leading to stroke. In order to keep the production of this amino acid under control, it is recommended that you take folic acid, B12 and B6 supplementation, often available in a formula to control this specific risk factor. Ideally, Homocysteine levels should be less than 12.
Lipoprotein A: Lipoprotein A is a lipoprotein particle found in the blood similar in structure to the “bad” LDL cholesterol. Lipo A is a marker that is used to assess the potential for developing atherosclerosis; thickening or hardening of the arteries. People with this risk factor may have a greater incidence of heart attack or stroke. Those at risk for elevated Lipoprotein A include post-menopausal women. It is ideal to keep Lipo A below 30mg/dl and one way in which to do this is through the intake of Niacin. This B vitamin can also help lower total cholesterol. Niacin, however, can cause a flushing sensation that is very uncomfortable, producing itching a swelling on the skin that lasts several minutes. To lessen this uncomfortable side effect, I recommend you try a time-release Niacin that id formulated to prevent flushing. For those with very high levels of Lipoprotein A, studies have shown that supplementing with the amino acids Proline and Lysine may be helpful.
Please be sure to seek the advice of your doctor or health care professional before beginning any vitamin supplementation.