10 Ways to Boost Heart Health

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Heart disease has become one of the leading causes of death in the Western world and it is not surprising considering the way we are leading our lives and the foods that we are eating! The number of heart-related diseases has risen ten-fold since our diets have evolved from the Paleolithic (caveman) diet that our ancestors ate to what we are eating today. The need for convenience, coupled with stressful and sedentary lifestyles has led to many people opting for processed and packaged alternatives instead nutritious and wholesome foods.

What causes Heart Disease?

Heart Disease relates to a number of cardiovascular conditions including:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol)
  • Atherosclerosis (fatty deposits on the artery walls)
  • Arteriosclerosis (thickening and hardening of artery walls)
  • Stroke
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Angina

They may have different names and pathogenesis, however they all tend to have one contributing factor – poor dietary choices made up of a high intake of processed vegetable oils, trans-fats, refined carbohydrates and sugar with a low intake of antioxidants. This type of diet can that lead to oxidative damage to blood vessels and the formation of plaques (fat deposits) on the artery walls. This in turn can cause the arteries to become narrowed and restrict blood flow which usually results in a rise in blood pressure. The plaques can also harden which restricts blood flow further, resulting in the tissues becoming poorly oxygenated. Over time, if this continues to happen then complete cessation of blood flow can occur causing death of that tissue, usually resulting in a stroke or heart attack.

There has been much research into the effects of diet, nutrition, herbs and lifestyle and how these have a positive impact on heart health. Dr Esselstyn, author of ‘Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease’* has done a lot of work around this issue and believes that with good nutrition and lifestyle modifications you can prevent and stop progression of heart disease and even reverse it.

Here are 10 Ways to Boost Heart Health

  1. Making healthy food choices:
      • Eat fresh food – plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.
      • Avoid highly processed vegetable oils including margarine. Also don’t eat processed/packaged foods and takeaways. 
      • Avoid eating excess sugar and refined carbohydrates (such as cakes, biscuits and white bread). Sugar in the blood stream can damage capillaries and blood vessels and cause problems with blood flow.
      • Also avoid cooking with oxidised or rancid oils as these are toxic and can damage your cells.
      • Increase soluble fibre as this is a great way to help reduce LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol as the fibre binds the cholesterol deposited in the arteries for easy excretion via the bowels. Good sources of soluble fibre include oats, oatmeal, psyllium, linseeds, nuts, lentils, beans, apples and pears.
      • Regularly eat good sources of omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish such as sardines or mackerel, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts and chia seeds. Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory, and has shown to reduce blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
  1. Eat (raw) garlic, onions, ginger and turmeric wherever possible as these foods have been shown to have lipid lowering and hypotensive actions, as well being anti-inflammatory and having antioxidant properties.**
  2. Avoid drinking coffee and alcohol as they can increase heart rate and cause blood pressure to rise.
  3. Avoid smoking as it reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood. It also affects blood supply delivered to tissues, damages artery walls, causes blood to become ‘sticky’ and blood cells to clump together.
  4. Lose weight as excessive weight puts more pressure on the heart to pump blood around the body so that oxygen and nutrients reach all of the tissues. Over time this can weaken the heart as it is constantly over-compensating. Fat can also deposit around the tissues reducing blood supply further.
  5. Reduce stress by changing lifestyle habits and implementing relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga. Stress can contribute to increased blood pressure and heart rate due to the activation of our sympathetic nervous system which triggers specific hormones to be released by the adrenal glands.
  6. Exercise regularly to keep the body active and promote effective circulation of blood. Exercise also aids in maintaining a healthy weight and burns off excess glucose.
  7. Increase your intake of antioxidants to help neutralise free radical damage to your cells. Bioflavonoids and Quercetin plus superfoods such as Spirulina, Chlorella and Acai all provide an excellent source of antioxidants. CoQ10 is another fantastic antioxidant that has cardioprotective properties and also aids in energy production**.
  8. Vitamin C, Grapeseed extract and the herb Butcher’s Broom all help to maintain blood vessel integrity, improve blood flow and strengthen blood vessels walls.**
  9. There are some amazing herbs that may help with cardiovascular function and these include:**
    • Hawthorn – a cardio-tonic that helps improve circulation, lower blood pressure and reduce LDL cholesterol.
    • Ginkgo – stimulates circulation especially to the smaller blood vessels and is known to enhance brain function and retinal blood flow.
    • Cayenne – promotes healthy blood circulation and metabolic rate, and is also a powerful anti-inflammatory.
    • Milk Thistle, Globe Artichoke and Dandelion root – provide liver support, help increase bile production and secretion, and improve elimination of toxins and cholesterol.

So in order to maintain a healthy heart: eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to increase your antioxidant intake, cut out all the junk, exercise regularly, take time out to relax and avoid doing anything that may be causing long-term damage to your arteries. Make a conscious plan today to start implementing good dietary and lifestyle practices to benefit your health now – don’t wait until it’s too late!

If you have tips for boosting heart health, please share in the comments below!

 

*Esselstyn, C.B. (2007). Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

**If you are currently taking any medication, please consult with your healthcare practitioner before taking any herbs or nutrients to ensure that there are no interactions or contraindications. 

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Michelle is a qualified Naturopath, Nutritionist, Reflexologist and Reiki practitioner who is passionate about living a holistic lifestyle and helping others to achieve their health goals. She is also a Jungle Body Dance Fitness Instructor, which not only keeps her fit but also helps her to inspire others to feel confident and get in shape.

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