In February we often focus on matters of the heart. We often overlook emotions as being one of the key elements in having a healthy heart. While diet, exercise and supplements can help prevent or improve existing cardiovascular conditions, keep in mind that love has been demonstrated in many medical studies to be one of the most important key factors in surviving heart conditions. With this being said, there are many other factors that contribute to heart problems and there are many different ways to prevent them.
When Something Goes Wrong
Heart Disease is the leading cause of death in North America. While Heart Disease refers to a disorder of the heart, in reality, it is a group of disorders that encompasses the heart and the entire vascular system. It often takes years to develop and can begin at a very early age (i.e. childhood obesity is often the precursor, not only to Type II Diabetes but also heart disease). Two of the most recognizable precursors contributing to Heart Disease are high blood pressure and hypertension. The reason being is that when blood pressure is high it forces the blood to circulate at very high speeds throughout the body, putting a strain on your arteries. This eventually causes damage to previously healthy surfaces, which results in inflammation, plaque formation and vascular narrowing. Other important issues to be aware of are genetics and environmental and lifestyle-related risk factors. It's important to be aware of your family's history so that you can know if you are at risk. Of all of the risk factors, stress is the one most often overlooked! Our lifestyle can significantly contribute to heart disease. Those who work in high stress jobs or those who never take time to take care of themselves are increasing their risks drastically as well.
Elevated Cholesterol: Good or Bad?
The liver is the primary manufacturer of cholesterol in the body. Dietary cholesterol has very little impact on cholesterol levels. The two types of cholesterol referred to most often are High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL). HDL carries cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver for recycling, while LDL carries cholesterol to the cells including the artery walls. For this reason, LDL is often referred to as bad cholesterol. LDL's purpose however, is as an antioxidant to repair and rebuild already damaged and inflamed cells. There is no good or bad cholesterol, just damaged LDL cholesterol often occurring when other conditions, such as insulin resistance, are present.
What Other Conditions Can Lead to Heart Disease?
In 1988 Gerald M. Reaven, Endocrinologist at Stanford University identified 5 related conditions that significantly increased the risk of developing Heart Disease and Diabetes. The conditions he identified are:
- Abdominal obesity
- High triglycerides/high
- LDL cholesterol
- Low HDL cholesterol
- Elevated glucose/insulin resistance.
It's important to note that a combination of two or more of these conditions has an cumulative effect and further increases your risk factor!
Research now indicates that inflammation and homocysteine levels are major causes of Atherosclerosis. When damage occurs to the lining of the arteries, chemicals are released to initiate the process of inflammation and the liver releases LDL to repair and rebuild the damaged tissues. Conditions such as insulin-resistance can cause inflammation in the arteries as well as abnormalities in LDL level's resulting in greater numbers of small dense LDL particles without raising the total cholesterol level numbers. These small dense particles can squeeze between the cells lining the inside of the arteries, then get stuck and oxidize causing inflammation that will create plaque. Since the body releases C-reactive protein whenever there is inflammatory stimuli, as is the case of arterial plaque, testing for this marker (hs-CRP) is an excellent way to check for Coronary Artery Disease.
Homocysteine: Nutrition Is Key!
What is the explanation for the half of the population that suffers heart attacks and have normal cholesterol and blood pressure? There is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and it is homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is a sulphur-containing amino acid that is associated with high protein consumption (contained primarily from red meat) that can become toxic to the body if not broken down properly, causing arterial plaque build-up. A build-up of homocysteine can be prevented by reducing red meat consumption and taking B vitamins, specifically folic acid, B6 and B12.
Health Tips for Healthy Heart
It's important to find out from your doctor your current health status so you can begin your road to good health! Exercising regularly and eating the right foods are also extremely important to your heart! Health promoting foods are very important in reducing inflammation and preventing many chronic diseases.
Below are a few heart health tips to follow:
- Request your doctor do some blood tests that measure high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) and your homocysteine levels.
- Exercise is the key to a healthy heart! Your heart is a muscle too and needs to be exercised regularly to stay healthy. Just 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise to elevate your heart rate will help make your heart stronger.
- Include at least 6 servings of fresh, non-starchy vegetables and 1 fruit each and every day (Remember a serving is 1 " ½ cup of vegetables so really it's not that much to eat over the course of a day!)
- Avoid refined and processed carbohydrates (i.e. white sugar " just remember most of the time anything white is not good for you!)
- Choose foods that are 55 or lower on the Glycemic Index
- Include Omega-3 essential fats in your diet by eating fish or by taking a good quality fish oil supplement. Omega-3 EFA's help reduce inflammation in many areas of the body!
- Include a moderate amount of lean protein in your diet daily (i.e. skinless chicken, fish or nuts) at every meal and snack. Only eat red meats like beef, dairy and organ meats on occasion.
- Avoid overcooked foods or foods cooked at high temperatures as this seriously depletes the nutritional value of the foods (and can alter the state of the food considerably removing precious nutrients or causing toxicity).
- Avoid processed and fried foods and colas and drinks made with artificial ingredients.
- Use primarily cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil in salads and when cooking.
Remember that we cannot always get the nutrients from our diet so it may be important to add a supplement alongside our diet to get the required amount of vitamins and minerals each day to help prevent heart disease!
Written by Diane Trumble, RNCP (Nutritionist at our Kanata location)