Heart Disease is Deadly
Heart disease contributes to over 17 million deaths globally every year. That’s one-third of all deaths for people over 35. Heart disease facts like these emphasize how important prevention becomes for heart health.
With heart disease, cholesterol and fibrous materials in artery walls forms a plaque or lesion, eventually setting the stage for atherosclerosis that leads to heart attacks.
Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, means blood doesn’t flow optimally through stiff arteries so your heart must work harder to push blood through those arteries. Plaque buildup can eventually lead to heart disease.
What Causes Heart Disease?
There is no one culprit that triggers heart disease. Instead, multiple contributing factors are often involved, including:
- Cholesterol. Damaged LDL (LDL is a lipoprotein or “carrier” of cholesterol) can increase your atherosclerosis risk. This article can help you normalize high cholesterol levels.
- Chronic inflammation. Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease. Damaged LDL particles stick to your artery walls and create chronic inflammation that can lead to heart disease.
- Oxidative stress. Damaged LDL also creates oxidative stress, an imbalance between harmful free radicals and your antioxidant defenses that plays a role in heart disease.
- Triglycerides. High levels of this type of fat in your blood can increase heart attack risk four times.
- Glycation. Glycation makes damaged LDL worse, leading to advanced glycation end products (or more appropriately, AGEs) that contributes to heart disease.
- Insulin resistance. When insulin stays chronically elevated because of high blood sugar levels, your cells become “resistant” to this hormone. Insulin resistance is a chief driver for heart disease.
- Homocysteine. High levels of this sulfur-containing amino acid are an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis. Too much homocysteine can damage the lining of your artery walls.
- Other diseases. Other health conditions such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes can increase your risk for heart disease.
- Diet and lifestyle factors. While familial history can play a role in heart disease, how you live and what you eat dramatically influence this condition. An unhealthy diet, not exercising regularly, smoking, and being overweight are all risk factors that jeopardize heart health.
Your doctor can measure many of these markers for heart disease with blood tests.
C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, for instance, can indicate your level of inflammation that contributes to heart disease. High levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL (your “good” cholesterol) are a risk factor for heart disease.
Altogether, these tests can provide a comprehensive picture of heart health. Talk with your healthcare professional about strategies to normalize these factors. Fortunately, many of them including insulin resistance are preventable or reversible with the right dietary and lifestyle factors.
Designing a Heart-Healthy Diet
Optimal heart health starts with what you eat. A heart-healthy diet should be low in refined grains, added sugars, trans fats, sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as red and processed meats. Studies strongly confirm that refined, high-glycemic carbohydrates contribute to heart disease.
The only exceptions we recommend here would be grass-fed meats and very minimally processed, organic or grass-fed meats.
Many processed foods are high in sodium, which can crowd out potassium and contribute to heart disease. Researchers find many of us get insufficient amounts of this mineral, which can lower blood pressure and improve heart health. Potassium-rich foods include avocado, spinach, broccoli, and sweet potatoes.
With that in mind, here’s how to maximize heart-healthy foods and develop a diet for heart health. (Some of these categories overlap.)
- Anti-inflammatory foods. Researchers recommend at least two servings of fatty fish weekly. Wild-caught seafood is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve heart health. Other sources of these anti-inflammatory fatty acids include walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds.
- High-fiber foods. A Harvard study with over 40,000 male health professionals found those with a high total dietary fiber intake (about 29 grams daily) lowered their risk for heart disease an impressive 40 percent. Many plant foods contain fiber. Among the highest include berries, avocado, nuts, seeds, lentils, as well as leafy and cruciferous veggies.
- Nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. A heart-healthy diet optimizes plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruits that are high in dietary fiber, complex carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and phytochemicals.
- Nuts and seeds. Among their benefits, nuts can reduce your risk for heart disease. Despite being high in calories, nuts don’t contribute to weight gain when you eat them in moderation. An ounce or two of raw almonds or other nuts and seeds can provide those benefits.
- Dark chocolate. Good news for chocolate lovers: The flavanols in dark chocolate can boost heart health. Quality and quantity are key: Look for an organic raw dark chocolate with at least 85 percent or higher cacao and no more than five grams of sugar per serving. Remember that most bars contain several servings.
- Green tea. If you’re sensitive to the caffeine in coffee, try green tea. Research shows the catechins – especially epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGcG) – help reduce atherosclerosis and improve heart health.
Here’s how a typical day might look with a heart-healthy diet.
Breakfast: Smoothie that includes a grass-fed whey protein powder, unsweetened almond butter, organic berries, and avocado
Lunch: Large salad with free-range organic chicken and lots of vegetables with olive oil and red wine vinegar
Snack: One-ounce raw walnuts or Essential Bar, which is rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 flax and chia seeds
Dinner: Wild-caught salmon, sauteed spinach, quinoa. Fresh organic berries for dessert
7 Healthy Heart Tips
Heart health starts with a healthy eating plan but also demands a healthy lifestyle. Many of these tips support heart health by balancing blood sugar as well as reducing heart disease factors including inflammation and oxidative stress.
Healthy lifestyle tips include dietary modifications along with simple lifestyle changes. You don’t need to be perfect here. Research shows the 90-10 rule, where what you do 90 percent of the time for heart health, is most critical yet allows for some flexibility.
Along with the diet plan above, these seven tips can help you create sustainable, lasting changes for heart health.
1. Maintain a healthy weight.
Obesity increases your risk for health complications including heart disease, and evidence shows even modest weight loss (such as five to 10 percent) can reduce heart disease risk. The whole foods, unprocessed diet here can dramatically improve heart health.
2. Make an oil change.
Choosing the right oils to cook with and drizzle on your food could improve heart health. For medium-heat cooking, use extra-virgin coconut oil. (Despite it being high in saturated fat, research shows it contains healthy fatty acids and raises HDL or “good” cholesterol in small amounts.) For drizzling, extra-virgin olive oil makes a great choice. Research shows its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and blood vessel support benefits can lower the risk for atherosclerosis and improve heart health.
3. Fix your gut.
Recent research shows the gut microbiome plays a significant role in heart disease. Besides fiber, probiotics and prebiotics support a healthy gut and a healthy heart. If you aren’t regularly eating fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut, consider a probiotic supplement, which studies show can support heart health. Our Vitamin D3 + Probiotics combines these gut-supporting flora with this crucial vitamin research shows can prevent heart disease.
4. Try these heart health supplements.
Many foods here contain some heart-healthy nutrients, though for therapeutic levels you will want to supplement with a quality multivitamin/ mineral (available for women or men). Among the most-studied nutrients for heart health include:
5. Get sufficient sleep.
Research shows we average only 6.8 hours of sleep nightly. That’s about 1.5 hours less nightly than a century ago. Sleep deprivation can increase sympathetic nervous system activity, contributing to heart disease. Our Sleep & Mood Formula can help you safely fall and stay asleep without waking up groggy.
6. Exercise regularly.
“Physical activity of any type – whether it was walking or doing household chores – was clearly linked with a lower risk of death or heart disease and stroke,” a study published in The Lancet with over 130,000 people from 17 countries concluded. Government data recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity weekly, which can reduce your risk for heart attacks, strokes, and death 20 – 30 percent. Here are some tips on how to start exercising.
7. Manage stress levels.
One review of evidence from over 600,000 men and women in 27 international studies found that work stressors including long work hours can moderately elevate your risk for heart disease and stroke. Research shows yoga is a promising way to control heart disease and reduce stress. So can meditation and mindfulness, which research shows can create a modest benefit for heart health. What matters is what helps you lower stress levels. Be sure to check out a list of stress relief tips that we’ve compiled that will help you age gracefully.
Visiting a chiropractor also makes an ideal way to support heart health. Chiropractic care can positively impact your nervous system, which supports heart and blood vessel health. Research shows visiting a chiropractor can help normalize risk factors for heart disease including high blood pressure.
Your chiropractor can also design a customized plan that, along with the diet plan and tips here, can help you prevent or reverse heart disease to complement your doctor’s strategies.