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Preventing Heart Disease Naturally


In my recent FB post (https://www.facebook.com/ShalomHealthNaturopathy/posts/785777180224356) I mentioned that heart disease is the 2nd biggest killer of women in Australia. In men it’s the number 1 killer. So with that reality in mind, today I want to talk about some basic things we can do to prevent heart disease.


Admittedly genetics can play a part, however we have a saying that “genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger” – we do not have to be victims of our genetics – what we do with diet & lifestyle determines how our genes express.


Anyone who’s been reading my posts for a while will have heard me likening our core pillars of health to the legs of a chair which can only be as strong as its healthiest leg.


These core pillars are:

  • Food and nourishment

  • Movement

  • Sleep

  • Stress

It should come as no surprise then, that these are the core pillars of heart health.


I’ll also just add here that if you’re a smoker, perhaps the single most significant thing you can do is quit smoking! Quitting smoking decreases your risk of heart attack and stroke almost immediately!


Now let’s take a closer look at those 4 pillars.


Physical activity


Exercise helps strengthen muscles (including heart muscles), keeps your blood moving, helps regulate blood sugar and stress and improves sleep.


Regular physical activity reduces your risk of heart attack or developing heart disease. Any physical activity is better than none, but the recommended amount is 30-60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking) most days of the week.


I recommend finding activities you enjoy as you are more likely to continue with it.


Sleep


Insomnia, sleep disorders, fragmented, poor sleep, or just not enough of it have been linked to higher risk of cardiovascular disease. They can contribute to problems with blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and heart attacks.


Sleep is a post (or book) all of its own (If you want to read a great book on sleep I highly recommend Why We Sleep my Matthew Walker). When addressing sleep concerns with a client I always begin with sleep hygiene (a post for another day, but you can google it).


A couple of our most significant nutrients to support sleep are magnesium (see below) and tryptophan (found in turkey, fish, eggs, bananas and dairy). Supporting the bodies production of melatonin is also essential – morning sun exposure (particularly to your closed eyelids) and limiting artificial light (especially blue light) at night are the most important contributors. However good food sources include oily fish, tart cherries, eggs, nuts (especially almonds and pistachios).


If sleep problems are ongoing you may need additional support (such as herbal or supplemental).


Stress


Like really every other area of health, stress (especially chronic stress) negatively affects your heart health. Stress can increase inflammation in your body, elevate blood pressure and lower “good” cholesterol. It can also indirectly affect your heart healthy by affecting your sleep.


Our modern lifestyles are incredibly stressful. Reduce stress wherever you can, make time for relaxation and self-care, get good sleep and regular exercise and support yourself with good stress management tools such as breathing techniques, mindfulness and relaxation. Social support is also incredibly undervalued. Take the time to seek out and enjoy positive, supporting relationships.


If stress continues to be high seek professional help such as naturopathic or counselling support.


Food and nourishment


What constitutes a healthy heart diet?


What do I focus on? A healthy heart diet focuses on nutrient density, reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, supporting circulation, optimizing blood lipids and supporting strong blood vessels.


Not surprisingly a wholefood diet supports these goals. This is the diet (or way of eating) that I generally promote as the most healthy and it is simply eating food in its most natural form – food the way God packaged it. It includes lots of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, wholegrains, eggs, fish, meat, herbs and spices.


I’m going to discuss this a bit more specifically to heart health but to be honest I personally find it overwhelming if I’m trying to look at the sources of each nutrient individually. I find it very interesting to look at each of the lists and observe the common foods. Have a look, get an idea but then I find if you follow these basic principles, you will be eating to support your heart:


1. Eat lots of vegetables and fruit. Include a lot of colour and diversity and be sure to include dark leafy greens, tomatoes (preferably cooked), avocadoes, onions, berries

2. Include wholegrains (such as brown rice), legumes, nuts and seeds (especially flax seeds, almonds, cashews, walnuts and brazil nuts).

3. Include oily fish and other omega 3 sources at least once a week.

4. Include organ meats (such as liver) once a week.

5. Use herbs and spices liberally such as garlic, ginger and turmeric.

6. Limit sugar, refined foods, trans-fats and caffeine.

7. Drink green tea, rooibos and green bosch.

8. Replace table salt with rock salt or sea salt.


.

When it comes to food, I like to focus first on what foods to include…


Lots of vegetables and fruit.


It has been suggested that just by increasing vegetable consumption to 600g per day, ischemic heart disease could be lowered by 31% worldwide. I honestly think it’s nearly impossible to eat too many veggies. Fruit and veggies are a great source of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants. They are also a good source of fiber.


Berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and rasberries) are great sources of polyphenols.

Avocadoes are high in fiber and healthy fats and may improve lipid profiles and vascular function.


Tomatoes


Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that can reduce blood pressure, cardiac inflammation and improve cholesterol profiles (reducing “bad” and increasing “good” cholesterol). Low levels of lycopene are associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Lycopene is found in tomatoes and is what gives them their lovely red colour. Cooking tomatoes increases their lycopene content (increasingly higher levels at 2, 15 and 30 minutes of cooking). Antioxidant levels are also increased at progressive levels with cooking. Additionally the bioavailability of lycopene is higher in tomato paste than fresh tomatoes.


Fiber


Higher dietary fiber intakes are associated with reduced risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease). Soluble fiber - found in barley, oats, legumes, brussel sprouts, avocadoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, pears, figs, apricots, nectarines, nuts and seeds (flax, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts) - lowers “bad” cholesterol.


Sources of omega 3 fatty acids


Omega 3 fatty acids decrease inflammation, prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. The best sources are oily fish (such as salmon, trout and sardines); as well as flax seeds, walnuts, sea vegetables, grass fed beef and eggs, chia and hemp seeds.


Herbs and Spices


Herbs and spices are a powerful source of nutrients and antioxidants and have many healing properties. Some herbs that are especially beneficial for heart health include garlic, ginger and cayene to promote good blood flow and circulation; garlic also reduces blood lipids, improves blood pressure and prevents clots; and turmeric which has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions.


Other foods to decrease blood lipids


Green tea (also high in antioxidants*)

Onions

Nuts and seeds

(*note rooibos tea and green bosch are even higher in antioxidants than green tea. They may also improve blood pressure & cholesterol)


Sources of magnesium


Magnesium is one of our key minerals for supporting cardiovascular health. Some of our best food sources of magnesium are dark leafy greens, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts (these are also very high in selenium which is a powerful antioxidant – but limit brazil nuts to only 2-3 a day) avocadoes, legumes and cocoa (yep dark chocolate!).


Note: Dark chocolate is also high in antioxidants and a good source of resveratrol – a substance that prevents blood clots and lowers blood pressure.


Sources of B vitamins


B vitamins are another of our key nutrients for heart health. Some great sources of B vitamins include eggs, meat, salmon, organ meats, wholegrains, leafy greens, avocado, chicken, legumes, mushrooms and asparagus.


Sources of Vitamin E


Vitamin E is a fat soluble antioxidant that has been shown to have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system. Good food sources include sunflower seeds, almonds, peanut butter, hazelnuts, pine nuts, salmon, avocado, red capsicum.


Sources of CoQ10


CoQ10 is a fat soluble compound produced naturally by the body (which decreases with age). It is found in the highest amounts in the heart, liver, kidney and pancreas. It’s a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. CoQ10 levels have been found to be lower in people with heart disease.


The best food sources are oily fish (such as salmon, trout and sardines – preferably choose wild caught and varieties low in heavy metals), organ meats (such as liver – and of course heart), beef, pork and chicken. Other sources however include wholegrains, pistachios, sesame seeds, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, oranges and legumes.


(Note: Statins deplete levels of CoQ10 in the body, so if you are taking a statin, you may need to take a CoQ10 supplement. Discuss this with a health professional as CoQ10 is contraindicated with some medications and to ensure safe supplementation as well as the best form and quality product advice.)



As well as including all these beautiful heart healthy foods, there’s some foods that we do best to limit. These include sugar, refined foods and trans-fats (such as shortening and margarine – often found in baked goods).


These foods are inflammatory and also negatively impact our lipid profile – excess sugar gets converted into triglycerides and trans-fats raise “bad” cholesterol while lowering “good” cholesterol.


It is also best to limit caffeine which can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, cause palpitations and reduce blood flow.


Additionally I recommend seeing your GP to regular tests done (at least every 12 months) and blood pressure checked. These tests include a full blood count and liver function tests as well as blood sugar, a lipid profile and vitamin D.


If you have a family history of heart disease then I also recommend talking to your GP about getting your homocysteine, B12 and folate tested; and possibly genetic testing (such as MTHFR) or talk to your GP about what other screening tests they recommend (such as a coronary calcium score).


All that I have discussed here is more about general prevention of heart disease. If you already have cardiovascular disease of some sort (including hypertension), there is more that can be done naturopathically – this can be alone of in conjunction with medical treatment. If you are concerned about your heart health and would like naturopathic support, then send me a message or book online.


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