Home is where the heart is…Welcome back to the second part of my blog on heart health! As advised last weekend I will follow up with possible causes of cardiovascular disease and how we might prevent it. We will talk about good fats, the role of fibre and other nutritional and lifestyle recommendations which have a huge impact on heart health. Let’s start with a look at some triggers of heart disease, inflammation and blood sugar levels.
But what exactly is inflammation? The word itself tells us a lot. Whenever a part of our body is inflamed, we experience heat, redness, swelling and potentially pain. As inflammation is energy consuming, we might experience fatigue. The inflammatory reaction is as life saving as is the stress reaction. It is a critical healing response which prevents the overgrowth of pathogens, infections, fights bacteria and viruses and much more. Like the stress reaction it is necessary for survival! However, it is equally important for the inflammation to stop when the threat is over. Due to persistent infections, chronic stress, hormonal imbalances, or too many pro-inflammatory foods we may experience ongoing low grade chronic inflammation which may compromise our health to the point that we develop long-term inflammatory conditions such as asthma and arthritis or atherosclerosis. A recent clinical trial called CANTOS proved that targeting inflammation has a significant impact on heart disease in people who already suffered a heart attack. The likelihood of a a subsequent heart attack was reduced by 15%, major interventions like bypass surgery by even 30%.
At the very core of chronic inflammation is our diet and our lifestyle, especially the consumption of refined carbohydrates/sugars and oxidized, hydrogenated fats as well as chronic stress. Sugar is a highly reactive compound causing the production of free radicals which then causes the damage of the internal lining of our arteries. Additionally, high sugar consumption triggers higher triglyceride levels which favor the formation of the smaller and denser LDL particles. (Find out more on the subject at the 7-day-quit-sugar challenge. Invitation at end of this article).
Hydrogenated oils and trans fats have been used since the 70s. They add texture and taste and extend the shelf life of many foods like commercially baked goods, margarine, and coffee whitener. Several studies showed that they are able to raise LDL Cholesterol, especially the more dangerous smaller and denser particles.
A plant rich, nutrient dense diet containing abundant fibre from vegetables, fruits and whole grains is most effective to reduce small, dense LDL particles. Fibre binds excess Cholesterol in the intestines, thus preventing it from being recycled and supporting the elimination of Cholesterol. Good sources of fibre are oats, beans, and seeds like flaxseeds.
Fresh fruit and vegetables contain abundant anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and antioxidants like Vitamin C, Beta-carotene, or Lycopene which can neutralized free radicals. A red bell pepper for instance has 190mg of Vitamin C, nearly three times as much as an orange. Vitamin C is a primary antioxidant in preventing atherosclerosis. Together with bioflavonoids and polyphenols like resveratrol it supports the integrity of our arterial lining. Blueberries for example contain so called Anthocyanins, which have a positive impact on lowering systolic blood pressure. Apple pectin is especially good in binding fat and cholesterol in the gut.
Healthy fats such as Omega 3’s from fatty fish like salmon or sardines, flaxseeds or walnuts have been shown to lower Triglycerides and LDL levels. They increase the fluidity of the cell membranes helping to incorporate more cholesterol into cell membranes and thus reducing its level in the blood. Extra virgin olive oil contains abundant healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants in particular a substance called oleuropein which protects LDL from being oxidized.
Lean protein from grass fed beef, organic chicken as well as protein from plant sources like beans and peas supports tissue health and helps to prevent muscle waste. A typical example for an anti-inflammatory diet is the Mediterranean diet, which has been proven to have the biggest impact on heart health.
Besides your diet, your lifestyle has a huge impact on your heart health. Chronic stress is a major trigger of heart disease. It is intricately linked to blood sugar imbalances as the stress hormone Cortisol raises blood sugar levels in order to prepare us for a fight or flight reaction. Cortisol also shuts down digestion. With constantly high levels of cortisol, we are unable to digest and absorb our food properly missing out on necessary nutrients to fight inflammation. Additionally, we might experience a raise in blood pressure, hormonal imbalances, sleep issues and unwanted weight gain. As Cortisol is using Cholesterol as a building block, Cholesterol production rises. As it has to be eliminated via the bile, we might end up with gallstones which most often consist of Cholesterol.
To conquer chronic stress, it is of utmost importance to learn and engage in some well-working stress reduction strategies, such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga or tai-chi. Additionally, it is worth diving a little deeper, and evaluate what causes the most stress and how to possibly avoid, reduce or reframe it. May it be so simple as to leave the house 15 minutes earlier on your way to work to avoid traffic or may it be the challenging decision to quit a well-paid job in order to pursue a career which makes your heart sing…
Along with all that has been said above there are a few major influences on heart health left to mention, such as your sleep quality and quantity. As all tissue repair takes place in your sleep, missing hours add up and have a direct impact on your inflammation levels especially on cardiovascular disease. By quitting smoking you can cut your heart disease risk in half.
We all have heard the saying “move it or loose it”. Undoubtedly exercise and a non-sedentary lifestyle have a huge impact on heart health. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine sitting is an independent risk factor for heart disease. Being physically inactive at the lowest level puts you at a higher risk than smoking. Even if you exercise regularly you should try to reduce longer periods of sitting or stand up every half hour and walk a few steps. But exercise is not only causing your heart pump harder to ensure sufficient supply of oxygen, it also raises your levels of a substance called Nitric Oxide. Some of you may know it as an emergency medication called Nitroglycerin. Nitric Oxide is able to relax the arteries allowing a higher blood flow and supply with oxygen for every cell. Therefore, it plays a critical role in lowering blood pressure and for overall blood circulation. Nitric Oxide is usually produced in the lining of your arteries, but when plaque builds up in the arteries the capacity to produce Nitric Oxide is reduced.
After all we have evaluated there is just one thing left – a risk factor more important than diet, more important than smoking or exercise – social isolation! Loneliness is one of the biggest challenges for our health!
We all know that you literally can die from a broken heart. How well we are socially connected – even in times of Covid 19 – is a major predictor for our overall health, especially our heart health. In the so-called Blue Zones Communities one of the most obvious factors for the life-long health of their inhabitants is their sense of belonging to a group or community who cares. In times of Covid 19, virtual communication services, such as Whatsapp, Facetime or Signal etc. are essential to keep in touch with loved ones whom you dearly miss. Yet social media is a double-sided sword. The overuse of social media is causally related to the rising rates of mental health issues in our youth, especially depression and anxiety.
Home is where the heart is…we need to refocus our priorities on what actually matters - love, connection and community, not only for our heart health, but for all we love and cherish!
I truly hope that I could inspire you to go the extra mile for your heart health and to consider the presented dietary and lifestyle changes. I am aware that the above compilation is not at all complete but still might be quite overwhelming.
To get you started on your journey to a better well-being I would like to invite you to join me - free of charge - and take on my
Together with a virtual Zoom group, you will quit sugar for one week.
You will have the opportunity to engage in a regular group chat, get tips and tricks to overcome sugar cravings and information on the impacts of sugar, how to identify it in your grocery products and what alternatives are recommendable.
If you like to be a part of it, just send a short e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and you’re in! no charge!
Starting day is Monday the 8th of March!!!
I am looking forward to seeing you there!
If you want to take a deeper dive into your personal situation, and get a detailed evaluation with individually tailored recommendations please feel free to contact me anytime at 905-580-9946 or book a free discovery call via my website www.4yourhealthonly.com.
Please be aware that cardiovascular disease is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition. Never change any medication or start a new regimen without talking to your medical doctor about it!
The information on this page is NOT intended as medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the care of a qualified health care professional. This content is not intended to diagnose or treat any diseases. Always consult with your primary care physician or licensed healthcare provider for all diagnosis and treatment of any diseases or conditions, for medications or medical advice as well as before changing your health care regimen.