Healthy Routes: When does heart disease begin?

Editor’s note: The following column is for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, medical opinion, diagnosis or treatment. See your doctor or health-care professional for medical advice and treatment.

By Gladys Kublik, owner Neighbors Vitamin Shop

We are familiar with the vocabulary of heart disease –the words heart attack, angina, triple or quadruple bypass surgery, angioplasty, and stents are heard more and more frequently when discussing the health of family, friends, neighbours or co-workers. We are all advised to keep our blood pressure down and our cholesterol under control, to choose heart healthy meals in the restaurant and limit our salt intake. In spite of all this, according to Statistics Canada, heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada.

Chest pains, shortness of breath, nausea or discomfort in the upper body, neck, jaw, or arms are signs of heart attack and for many the first indication that they have heart disease. These signs are in fact the end product of many previous years of heart disease, which has gone undetected or ignored. So when does heart disease begin?

Heart disease begins when the blood vessel walls begin to show streaks of fat. These accumulate steadily over time narrowing the arteries with plaques until blood flow to the heart is restricted. Studies show that these days that is occurring at a younger age than ever before.
So how can we protect our hearts? By minimizing the risk factors of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and diabetes we reduce stress on our circulatory system. A diet high in fruits and vegetables and adequate exercise play a major role in prevention of heart disease and maintenance of general good health.

According to Becky Hand, Registered Licensed Dietician, some of the nutrients essential in the maintenance of a healthy heart are B vitamins such as Niacin or Vitamin B3 which lowers cholesterol, folic acid and Vitamin B6 and B12 which help keep your nerves and red blood cells healthy and strong. They are also involved in the metabolism (and reduction) of homocysteine, an amino acid that, when elevated, is linked to heart disease, blood clots, heart attack and strokes.

Calcium helps to reduce the systolic blood pressure in people with hypertension and also lowers LDL cholesterol by 4.4% and raise HDL levels by 4.1%. A heart-healthy goal for calcium intake is to consume at least 1,000-1,200 milligrams daily.

Omega 3 essential fatty acids from fish oil can improve heart health due to their anti-inflammatory action. Research indicates that fish oil can: reduce triglycerides by up to 20-50%; modestly lower blood pressure by expanding blood vessels. A dose of 1 to 4 grams daily (with 240 milligrams of DHA and 360 milligrams of EPA per gram) is fairly typical.

Evidence suggests that people who drink more green tea have healthier cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Drink up to five cups of green tea daily for heart health, or supplement with 375 milligrams of green tea extract daily.

The fiber from psyllium can reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol. Studies have indicated that taking psyllium in a dose of approximately 10-12 grams daily can reduce levels of total cholesterol by 3% to 14% and LDL “bad” cholesterol by 5% to 10% after 7 weeks of treatment.

Supplementing with Coenzyme Q-10 may: reduce blood pressure; reduce the risk of heart disease complications when started within 72 hours of having a heart attack and taken for one year. Help treat congestive heart failure when taken in combination with other heart failure medications and treatments. Improve exercise tolerance in patients with chest pain (angina). Help prevent the muscle pains and liver damage often experience by people using statin drugs.

Plant sterols are components of certain plant membranes. It has been shown that plant sterols have the ability to help lower total cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends an intake of at least 2 grams of plant sterols daily to be effective at lowering cholesterol and LDL levels. To assure that one gets the 2 grams daily needed for effectiveness, many doctors now suggest taking plant sterols as a supplement.

What better time than during Heart Month to begin a healthy heart program to reduce those risk factors and improve the state of your cardiovascular system with nutrition and exercise. Happy Valentine’s Day to you all and love your heart, it’s yours for life.

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