Heart Health: Prevention is Key

Image: lady with hands on her heart
By Dr. Brianna Vick

February is American Heart Month, and Cardiovascular Disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, the death rate for Cardiovascular Disease in the U.S. is 219.4 per 100,000. Put in perspective, someone dies of Cardiovascular Disease every 37 seconds.

Doctors have also confirmed that those individuals with preexisting heart conditions are at an increased risk of developing severe SARS-COVID-19. Meanwhile, the virus itself is already known for causing heart damage. Poor underlying metabolic health, which is common in patients with heart disease and includes diseases like type 2 diabetes and obesity, compounds the health risks and increases the likelihood of irreversible complications from Covid-19. A person with a healthy heart is much less likely to yield to the effects of low oxygen levels, unstable blood pressure, and blood clotting than someone whose heart is already vulnerable.

Prevention is the key to lowering your risk. Naturopathic medicine especially excels at prevention.  By addressing high blood pressure, weight, inflammation, excessive heavy metals and chemicals, blood sugar imbalances, and correcting underlying nutritional deficiencies, you can take control of your health and make sure that none of your “risk factor” boxes are checked.  Some of the foundations for correction and prevention include diet, exercise, stress, and correcting function.   

  1. Diet is not only one of the 7 biometrics that has a direct impact on cardiovascular risk, but it has also been implicated in 4 of the others: BMI, blood pressure, total cholesterol, and blood glucose. The Mediterranean diet has been found, in studies, to lower the risk of uncontrolled hypertension by 27%. Based on foods commonly consumed by the residents of countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, this healthy diet includes:
  • Plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, and whole grains
  • Minimally processed, seasonally fresh, and locally grown whole foods
  • Olive oil as the main fat source
  • Low to moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt
  • Low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry
  • Infrequent consumption of small amounts of red meat
  • Fresh fruit for dessert
  • Low to moderate amounts of wine, with meals
  1. Exercise is extremely beneficial for the heart. Frequent physical activity equates to lower blood pressure, higher insulin sensitivity, and a healthier plasma lipoprotein profile—in other words, the body becomes better at transporting fats through the bloodstream to prevent excessive build-up on the inner arterial walls.

    The most up-to-date research also shows that resistance training helps to reduce fat tissue around the heart. Also known as strength training, this type of training uses muscular contraction to increase anaerobic endurance, build stronger muscles, and strengthen bones. In a 12-week study of 50 participants conducted by JAMA Cardiology, resistance training was shown to reduce the mass of fatty tissue surrounding the heart by 31%, when compared to the no-exercise control group. Talk with your Naturopathic Doctor about safely implementing an exercise routine.
     
  2. Nitric oxide production levels influence blood flow within the body. At Prairie Naturopathic Doctors we routinely evaluate nitric oxide levels.  In additional to cardiovascular disease deficiencies of nitric oxide are associated with depression, memory loss, osteoporosis, obesity, stomach ulcers, chronic stress, poor physical stamina, insomnia, diabetes, COPD, dementia, and cancer so it is important to evaluate and correct.  Exercise supports the body’s production of nitric oxide, and so do many foods such as:
  • Watermelon
  • Beets
  • Garlic
  • Leafy Greens
  • Citrus fruits
  • Pomegranates
  • Nuts and seeds
  1. Prediabetes affects approximately 30% of Americans. If you are someone who suffers from prediabetes, working with your Naturopathic Doctor to reverse your condition will not only prevent damage to many of your body systems and eliminate the need for medication to regulate blood sugar levels, but it will also lower your cardiovascular risk and improve immune health.
     
  2. Stress is another important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The heart is an organ associated with the emotions of life. When you feel pain and sadness, often you feel it in the heart. Research concludes that, whether the stress is work-related or the result of social isolation or loneliness, chronic stress does predict the occurrence of CHD (coronary heart disease). Short-term stress can even act as a trigger for serious heart-related medical issues among patients who already suffer from advanced atherosclerosis (fat build-up on the inner arterial wall). Stress management can be vital to the prevention of cardiac events in susceptible individuals. Each situation is unique and warrants personal attention.

The heart is one of your most vital organs, and it is not just your ribcage that provides its protection. It is up to you to maintain your heart health through diet, exercise, and consistent attention to your current state of mental and physical health. If you fall into one or more at-risk categories, immediate action is necessary on your part to prevent a cardiovascular event—or to protect your heart health from damage after COVID. If you suffer from any of the linked conditions, please discuss a plan of action with your Naturopathic Doctor. Prevention is truly the key to a strong, healthy heart. We all have reasons or motivations for living that bring us joy. Find your reason why in your heart, and allow it to be what motivates you to focus on what it takes to keep that heart muscle beating strong.

 

Resources:

Christensen, Regitse Højgaard et al. “Effect of Aerobic and Resistance Exercise on Cardiac Adipose Tissues: Secondary Analyses from a Randomized Clinical Trial.” JAMA cardiology vol. 4,8 (2019): 778-787. doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2019.2074

Lee Lewis, Dara K. “Covid-19 and the heart: What have we learned?” Harvard Health Publishing. www.health.harvard.edu/blog/covid-19-and-the-heart-what-have-we-learned-.... Updated January 8, 2021.

Martinez-Gonzalez, Miguel, Alfredo Gea, and Miguel Ruiz-Canela. “The Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health.” Circulation Research. Originally published 28 Feb 2019. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.118.313348. 2019; 124:779–798

Nystoriak, Matthew A, and Aruni Bhatnagar. “Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise.” Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine vol. 5 135. 28 Sep. 2018, doi:10.3389/fcvm.2018.00135

Steptoe, Andrew, and Mika Kivimäki. “Stress and cardiovascular disease.” Nature reviews. Cardiology vol. 9,6 360-70. 3 Apr. 2012, doi:10.1038/nrcardio.2012.45

February 26, 2021

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