A Change of Heart
Though wearing your heart on your sleeve isn’t considered beneficial, if we could actually do it we would be able to take a close look at its condition every day. Head off heart disease by nurturing the most discussed but least appreciated organ that symbolizes love and caring.
More of us die from a broken heart than any other ailment. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Canadians over 45. Significantly cut your chances by eating the right foods, staying active, maintaining a healthy weight and adopting stress-reduction techniques. Those at risk may also need vitamin supplements and herbs to maintain healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Crushes aren’t the only heartaches starting at a younger age. Research shows that plaque can start building as young as age 11, so learning healthy habits early is crucial. Heart disease is usually a product of atherosclerosis—a slow buildup of this plaque in the arteries. Plaque is made of heavy metals, collagen, debris, fats, cholesterol and triglycerides held together by calcium.
According to the book, The Nutritional Bypass: Reverse Atherosclerosis Without Surgery by David Rowland, the process begins when tears along the arterial wall are created by tiny tumors that have burst. The tumors are caused by free radicals, highly reactive molecules that can cause cells to unnaturally multiply. The body’s clotting fibre moves in to patch the tear but it’s this fibre that traps calcium, fats and the other substances. Cholesterol serves very important functions, such as forming cell membranes and hormones, yet it is thought that an overabundance of it in the blood gets clogged in this clotting fibre with the other substances. When this buildup accumulates it may close an artery or cause a clot that plugs it, preventing blood flow. Combined with high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or smoking, it results in heart disease and attacks. (Elevated levels of homocysteine, an amino acid, have also been linked to higher incidences of heart attack and blood clots, and C-reactive protein, CRP, a marker of inflammation in blood vessels, is linked with second heart attacks.)
An ounce of prevention. Your heart works 24 hour days with no breaks. It can be difficult to get enough nutrients from your diet for this hard-working organ. Supplement with antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E that protect against free-radical damage. Niacin, the most vital B vitamin for longevity, enlarges blood vessels, helps to eliminate excess cholesterol and metabolizing fats, carbohydrates and proteins. As little as 400 micrograms of Folic Acid a day may substantially reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Not getting enough Choline and Inositol might increase your risks since low levels of these trigger high blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. Choline prevents fat from sticking by emulsifying and burning it and Inositol is a relaxant. Hydroxycitric acid may prevent formation of cholesterol in addition to keeping weight under control by suppressing your appetite and inhibiting fat from forming. Magnesium helps to keep calcium from sticking to artery walls and regulates heartbeat. Potassium normalizes blood pressure and heart rhythm.
Herbs for a clean bill of health. Certain herbs improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, clearing your body of toxins, improving digestion, helping to metabolize foods, controlling weight, and acting as an anti-inflammatory. A cleaner system puts less stress on your heart.
Parsley is not only a rich source of Vitamin C vital to heart health, it’s a cleanser and digestive aid. Raw garlic lowers blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raises HDL cholesterol. Artichoke lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels, improves digestion and revitalizes the liver (your detox organ). Since keeping your digestion working smoothly and quickly prevents toxins from accumulating, nutritional digestive enzymes are recommended. Dandelion, bromelain and fenugreek also aid a sluggish digestion/elimination system, providing a clean environment. Ginkgo biloba improves blood flow throughout the body, helping circulation by widening the arteries. Ginseng is very protective to the heart against free-radical damage and helps to lower cholesterol.
Beat the odds by eliminating sugar, caffeine, alcohol and processed meats from your diet which, according to Rowland, raise blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and contribute to free radicals more than eating fat. Eat six to ten servings a day of different coloured fruits and vegetables. Their phytonutrients, which destroy free radicals, give plants colour or flavour, and signify different compounds, such as orange for beta-carotene in carrots and green for minerals in leafy greens. Eat lots of soluble fibre in whole grains, beans and vegetables to lower cholesterol, cleanse the body and boost the immune system. Our bodies can’t do without Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fatty acids from fish, seeds, nuts, flax, hemp and borage oil, proven to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Both saturated fat and polyunsaturated oils can cause problems. Vegetable oils that have been heated or are rancid (you can’t taste or smell rancidity) severely compromise the immune system and form free radicals. Cook with olive or grape seed oil which remain stable at higher temperatures, and refrigerate oils, nut and seed butters.
Get to the heart of the matter. Foods, herbs and supplements can't do their job if you have uncontrolled stress, don’t get enough sleep and you are sedentary. To keep your heart moving, keep the rest of your body moving. Exercise lowers blood pressure, reduces cholesterol, helps control diabetes, relieves stress and keeps weight in check. Get a jump on heart month in February by choosing all of these natural ways to be kind to your heart.
By Charleen Wyman, B.A. Journalism and Communications, B.A. English
University of Regina
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