Do you want to live a healthy, vibrant life without heart disease? Then you’re going to need to put heart health first!
Just like your car can’t run without an engine, your body can’t run without a heart and unfortunately heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. That’s one in every four deaths. Yikes!
But with the right nutrition and lifestyle choices, you can make your heart the thriving, blood-pumping, life-giving machine it was meant to be.
Reference 1: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
What Is Heart Disease?
Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, describes a collection of diseases that can result in a heart attack. Often these conditions involve the narrowing of the blood vessels and the disruption of blood flow to the heart. Stroke, angina (chest pain), and problems with heart muscle contraction are common complications of heart disease.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
Your exact symptoms will depend on the specific type of heart disease you have, but here are some of the main signs:
Pain, numbness, or weakness in the extremities (arms and legs)
Pain in the jaw, neck, abdomen, upper abdomen, or back
You may also experience shortness of breath, lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting, fast/slow heartbeat, fluttering of the chest, swelling in the extremities, or irregular heartbeat.
Heart infections can cause a variety of unique symptoms, including:
Dry or persistent cough
Swelling in the abdomen
It’s especially important to watch out for these symptoms if you have a family history of heart disease.
For many patients, it takes a serious cardiovascular event to bring a heart issue to light, but if you’re vigilant you can catch it early.
Now let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of cardiovascular disease.
By addressing these risk factors, you can reduce your risk of developing a heart condition.
Causes of Cardiovascular Disease
One of the most common causes of heart disease is a buildup of plaque in the arteries called atherosclerosis. This can thicken, stiffen, and damage the blood vessels. The good news is, you can greatly reduce the risk of atherosclerosis with diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices.
Some of the most common causes of cardiovascular disease are:
High blood pressure
Excessive alcohol or caffeine use
Reference 3: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/your-heart/know-your-risks/heart-attack-risk-factors
Of course, some heart issues are the result of congenital heart defects and have little to do with lifestyle choices.
Medications and genetics can play a role in the development of heart conditions, and these risk factors increase as you age.
Heart infections may also occur when bacteria, viruses, or parasites reach the heart muscle.
Overall, men are at a greater risk for heart disease, although the risk for women increases after menopause.
Other potential risk factors of heart disease include:
Chemotherapy and radiation for cancer treatment
As you can see, most of the causes of cardiovascular disease are within your control, and that’s great news for anyone who’s determined to live a long and healthy life.
So without further adieu, here are some of the most important things you can do to prevent heart disease:
7 Steps to Reduce the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Are you pumped to strengthen and protect the most important muscle in your body? Nope, it’s not your biceps-it’s your heart!
1. Reduce Inflammation
Many of the strategies for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease come back to one thing: inflammation.
Why is reducing inflammation so important for the heart?
Your body is more connected than you think, and inflammation in the gut can sneak into the bloodstream and spread throughout the body. These inflammatory agents can trigger health problems in the brain, joints, muscles, and cardiovascular system.
Although inflammation isn’t a direct cause of heart disease, researchers know that it’s part of the atherogenic response.
“The athero-what response?”
The atherogenic response is the formation of fatty deposits in the arteries, and we know that increased inflammation is common in people with heart disease.
Risk factors like high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking can “injure” the cardiovascular system.
When any part of the body gets injured, including the heart, it kicks inflammation into high gear.
This is fine for short periods of time because it helps you heal faster. However, risk factors like smoking and high cholesterol can lead to chronic inflammation, and this may contribute to the rapid buildup of plaque in the arteries.
According to Dr. Deepak Bhatt, M.D., chief of cardiology for the VA Boston Healthcare System, “Exactly how inflammation plays a role in heart attack and stroke remains a topic of ongoing research, but it appears that the inciting event in many heart attacks and some forms of stroke is the buildup of fatty, cholesterol-rich plaque in blood vessels.”
Reference 4: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/inflammation-and-heart-disease
Under the wrong conditions, the body treats plaque formations as a foreign invader, attacks it, and tries to block the plaque from the flowing blood.
Either a blood clot is formed or the plaque ruptures and creates a tear in the arteries.
This is why it’s so important to make healthy choices that reduce inflammation!
2. Stop Smoking
Smoking is literally the worst thing you can do for inflammation, and it’s also one of the most significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Both high blood pressure and rapid heart rate increase the chance of a cardiac event, and guess what?
Smoking tobacco elevates blood pressure and heart rate by forcing the heart to work harder to oxygenate the body.
But that’s just the beginning of smoking’s onslaught on your heart health-the chemicals and toxins in tobacco can directly damage the arteries, leading to inflammation and the increased buildup of plaque.
Not only does your heart have to work harder to oxygenate and expel carbon dioxide, but it also experiences chronic inflammation and a narrowing of the arteries.
Is it too late to benefit from quitting if you’re a lifelong smoker? Is the damage already done?
No matter how long you’ve been smoking, the risk of coronary heart disease can be nearly reduced to that of a nonsmoker within 15 years of quitting.
Are you a woman on birth control? If so, the stakes are even higher because birth control increases the risk of blood clot formation.
Don’t wait until a major cardiac event and stop smoking now.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Heart Disease Prevention
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may have positive effects, not just on heart health, but on cognitive performance, inflammation, and vision.
Specifically, researchers have honed in on the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) as the most beneficial compounds.
The omega-3 connection started when Danish scientists first noticed that the Inuits of Greenland had significantly lower rates of heart disease compared to people from Western countries.
The shocking part was that they ate a high-fat diet ̶ 40% of their calories came from the fat found in the seafood they ate, which was chock-full of EPA and DHA.
After over four decades of continued research, scientists now believe that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent coronary heart disease.
Here’s how omega-3s may lower the risk of heart disease:
Lower triglyceride levels
Reduce the risk of irregular heartbeat
Lower blood pressure
Reduce inflammation in the blood vessels
Reduce the formation of blood clots
Reduce the growth rate of plaque
Foods High In Omega-3s
Some experts recommend that you eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week.
Some of the best sources of omega-3s are fatty fish like:
Walnuts and other nuts contain a form of omega-3s called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), but the cardiac benefits of ALA are not as well documented.
Food vs. Supplements: Pros and Cons
Overall, the best strategy for increasing omega-3 intake is to get it from a variety of sources.
On one hand, food sources are great because they contain other healthy nutrients like the inflammation-reducing amino acid glutamine and the powerful antioxidant selenium. The downside is that food sources like fish can be high in toxins from polluted water.
Fish oil supplements can be a great way to get high levels of omega-3s without the toxins, but they often go rancid in the manufacturing process.
Only a few supplement companies source low-toxin fish and have strict quality control standards.
4. Eat a Healthy Diet
What does a heart-healthy diet look like?
For one, it’s high in omega-3 fatty acids, but aside from that, what else should you eat?
The general consensus is that you should reduce saturated fats like red meat and dairy, although I recommend avoiding dairy entirely because it’s pro-inflammatory. When you do eat red meat, make sure that it’s grass fed and grass finished. Meat from cows that are grain fed are more inflammatory and should be avoided.
Trans fats should be avoided entirely as well. These include many processed foods like:
Chips and crackers
Basically, anything that’s considered “junk food” is probably high in trans fat.
Sources of heart-healthy fats include:
Olives and olive oil
Fatty fish like wild-caught salmon and tuna
Aside from that, make sure to eat plenty of vegetables but avoid grains because they can be pro-inflammatory.
Whatever you eat needs to keep inflammation low and LDL cholesterol at normal levels.
At the same time, it’s important to not demonize LDL cholesterol because your body still needs it to make vital hormones.
Next, we’ll discuss why some researchers think that low hormone production may actually be the cause of high LDL cholesterol in the blood.
5. Optimize Your Hormones for a Healthier Heart
High cholesterol levels may actually be caused by hormone deficiencies.
For decades, most researchers thought that high LDL cholesterol in the blood was caused primarily by a high saturated fat diet.
While eating saturated fat may very well contribute to high blood cholesterol, the real cause may be hormone deficiency.
The body needs LDL cholesterol to produce hormones, and when hormone production decreases, the body increases cholesterol production to make more hormones.
But if your endocrine glands (hormone factories) are malfunctioning, there’s nowhere for the cholesterol to go.
In one recent study, researchers were able to significantly reduce blood cholesterol in 100% of patients by replacing the hormones lost to normal aging.
If this theory is accurate, then the only way to normalize blood cholesterol in these cases is to restore hormone production. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to improve hormone production with diet and exercise.
Here are some of the best ways to treat hormone deficiency naturally:
Reduce stress. Excessive stress hormone production can throw other hormones out of balance.
Eat foods that heal the gut. Probiotics like fermented vegetables, prebiotics like chicory root and artichoke, and nutrient-dense foods like bone broth can heal the gut lining and protect the bloodstream from inflammatory agents.
Seaweed is high in iodine-a nutrient that the thyroid needs to produce hormones.
Reduce caffeine and avoid alcohol. Limit caffeine to two cups of green tea a day.
Avoid sugar. It’s terrible for gut bacteria and promotes hormonal imbalances.
Exercise is one of the best things you can do to optimize hormone production.
Not only is exercise critical for hormonal health, but it’s also one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of heart disease, which brings us to our next heart-health tip:
6. Exercise for a Healthier Heart
No heart disease prevention plan is complete without a regular exercise routine.
Exercise doesn’t just build skeletal muscles and normalize hormones-it strengthens the heart, reduces blood pressure, and lowers your resting heart rate.
A regular exercise routine is basically a one-stop-shop for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The only question is how much exercise is enough?
The ideal amount of exercise always varies from person to person depending on different health factors, but exercising 30 minutes a day most days of the week should be a safe target.
You don’t need to feel pressured to push yourself to the limits.
In fact, moderate exercise like walking at a brisk pace, swimming, yoga, pilates, or light resistance training is just fine.
The goal is to stay consistent and avoid burning yourself out.
As a general rule, if you’re extremely sore the next day then you probably pushed yourself harder than you needed to.
Try to get a solid workout without causing too much inflammation.
7. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep is one of the most powerful things you can do to transform your health.
For one, sleep is when your body and brain repair themselves.
If you sleep poorly after working out then you’re going to wake up feeling sore and inflamed.
The same goes for repairing damage to the cardiovascular system-without quality sleep, damage to the heart and blood vessels won’t heal as effectively.
People with poor sleep habits tend to have higher rates of all sorts of health problems, including:
High blood pressure
Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.
Here are some tips for improving sleep quality:
Keep a regular sleep schedule. You’ll find that your sleep is more restful when you go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every night.
Get some sun. Exposure to natural sunlight during the day will help you fall asleep easier at night. Plus, the vitamin D3 that your body makes from sunlight helps optimize hormone production and improves mood.
Don’t eat too close to bedtime. Eat your last bit of food a couple of hours before bed. Eating before bed can disrupt the body’s repair processes.
Establish a calming evening routine, like reading before bed, meditating, or taking a hot bath.
Avoid technology too close to bedtime. The blue light from screens can disrupt melatonin production. Put away your phone and shut down your computer at least an hour before bed.
Sleep quality is too important to ignore, yet most people have terrible sleep habits. The result can be hormone deficiency, increased inflammation, and an increased risk of heart disease.
Try to adopt these heart-healthy tips one at a time and stay consistent.
Once you have one healthy habit locked down, move on to the next.
Make sure to get regular health screenings for diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, and hormone production. To get the best treatment for your cardiovascular health, contact us at Complete Care Health Centers and see one of our providers today.