What can we do to keep our hearts beating to their fullest so we can live a long and healthy life? We need to get educated.
by Krista Boulding
February is heart month. Not only should we celebrate the emotional heart, but we also need to honour the health of our anatomical heart.
The heart, arteries, veins and blood make up the cardiovascular system. This system is primarily responsible for delivering oxygen and nutrients to our cells and removing wastes. The heart can pump 2,500-5,000 gallons of blood at 100,000 beats per day to accomplish these important tasks. The heart is a powerful little machine that needs daily support to ensure it remains healthy and active throughout our lives.
According to Statistics Canada, heart disease is the second leading cause of death. Every seven minutes, someone will die from a heart attack or stroke. It is known as the silent killer because most problems go undetected until it becomes too late. But let’s focus on the positive; prevention is our best medicine. What can we do to keep our hearts beating to their fullest so we can live a long and healthy life? We need to get educated.
The term cardiovascular disease (CVD) is actually referring to the health of our arteries. Arteries can become clogged with a plaque build-up that impedes blood flow and can arrest it altogether. When blood flow to the heart stops, a person suffers a heart attack. When blood flow to the brain stops, a person suffers a stroke. This plaque build-up is called atherosclerosis and is absolutely in direct relation to our diets and lifestyle. The good news is this can be completely prevented and even reversed.
Studies have shown that people with diets low in essential fatty acids are at an increased risk for heart disease. Omega 3s, whether from plant or animal sources, have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system. They can lower LDL cholesterol, triglyceride levels, blood pressure and also inhibit platelet aggregation. We must add cold-water fish to our diet, such as salmon, sardines or halibut. If you don’t get enough fish in the diet, try a supplement such as salmon or krill oil. Make sure it is high quality and contains the naturally occurring astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant that will protect the heart and arteries from free radical damage and inflammation. Alternatively, if you’re vegetarian/vegan, your best bet is to supplement with algae oil. Be careful with consuming excess flax oil as it oxidizes very quickly and can actually cause more damage than good. Buy it in small quantities and never heat it.
Magnesium is an extremely important mineral for the health of our hearts. It is well proven that people who die from heart attacks have lower than average levels of magnesium in their systems. This mineral can increase energy production within the heart muscle; it dilates arteries to allow better blood flow, and can improve heart rate. At the least, men should get 350mg and women, 300mg of magnesium daily. You can find magnesium in all green, leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Food should always be your number one choice for getting nutrients, however, with the depletion of our soils, it can be difficult to get enough magnesium in our diets. It is now advisable for everyone to supplement with this mineral. As a general daily dose, choose 200-400mg of a highly absorbable chelate such as magnesium bisglycinate.
Garlic has been used successfully in reducing platelet aggregation, part of the early stages of atherosclerotic plaque. It is an excellent blood thinner and will help reduce high blood pressure. If you choose to increase the garlic in your diet, make sure it is raw and consume it very quickly after crushing. The medicinal compounds, specifically the allicin, are very reactive and will diminish rapidly. Heat will also destroy these compounds, so add your garlic in right at the end of cooking. There are many supplements available that try to outsmart nature; I still think it’s a wise choice to simply eat what the Earth gives us. However, if you choose to supplement, aged garlic extract may be the answer. It is rich in S-allyl-cysteine, a compound that shows a high bioavailability and strong antioxidant activity. This may be the more important ingredient to look for, rather than the allicin, in a garlic supplement.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a vital part of ATP production in our hearts. ATP is the energy currency in our cells that give our hearts the life force they need to pump blood through our bodies. By supplementing with CoQ10, studies have shown an increase in cardiac output and stroke volume. It is especially important to take extra CoQ10 if you’re on statin drugs to lower cholesterol, as these pharmaceuticals diminish the body’s CoQ10 levels. It is sadly ironic that we would take a drug to supposedly protect our cardiovascular system and end up suffering a heart attack as a side effect. CoQ10 can be found in organ meats such as liver, heart, kidneys, and also in fatty fish, red meat and eggs. If you’re a vegetarian, you can find it in smaller amounts in peanuts, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach. Make sure your animal sources are organic and free-range, as this will greatly increase the levels of CoQ10 in the product. If you choose to supplement, there is a broad range, from 30 mg to 300 mg depending on one’s individual needs. It is also worth noting that the ubiquinol form is better absorbed and utilized by the body.
Vitamin K2 is now in the spotlight as the missing ingredient in cardiovascular health. K2 ensures the calcium we ingest through food or supplements finds its way to our bones rather than depositing in our arteries. Atherosclerotic plaque consists of calcium, fats, cholesterol and other debris. It is clear now in the scientific literature that cholesterol and saturated fats are not the bad guys when it comes to plaque formation; it’s actually excess and displaced calcium. Taking a calcium supplement without adequate K2 levels in the body will increase our risk for heart disease. K2 is found in animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy. But make sure they are grass-fed as this greatly increases the K2 content. Green leafy vegetables are only a source of vitamin K1. While very good for you, it does not have the bone and artery protective benefits of K2. Our body can synthesize K2 from our gut bacteria, and to a small degree from K1, however, it is highly beneficial to supplement with this heart and bone protective nutrient. Aim for about 120 mcg per day.
Most of us don’t give much thought to our hearts; they unconsciously beat away inside our chests. February is here to remind us not to take them for granted. Our hearts need love, emotionally and physically. Take the time this month to really appreciate the amazing muscle that pumps life throughout our bodies. Eat heart healthy whole foods, supplement wisely and get that heart pumping with daily movement.
Happy Valentines Day!
Note: If you are currently taking medication or have been diagnosed with heart disease, it is always wise to talk with your doctor or pharmacists before embarking on a new supplement program.
Originally published at healthywaynaturalfoods.com Krista Boulding is a holistic nutritionist through the Edison Institute ( www.edisoninst.com) and a level-2 nutrition coach through Precision Nutrition (precisionnutrition.com). She provides private nutrition consultations, group wellness programs, and offers a variety of nutrition-based lectures throughout the year. Krista believes that true health can only be achieved through a combination of self love, nourishing whole foods and specific lifestyle practices. She is passionate about all things related to food, life and fitness. Find out more about her at www.kbstrengthandwellness.com
photo-montage by Tom Voidh