Love your heart.
(Originally published February 19, 2019)
According to the CDC, 1 in every 3 deaths is due to heart disease or stroke. These diseases cost us $199 billion per year. Let's delve into the topic a bit and see if we can help reverse these numbers.
What is actually going on inside the body?
Imagine the blood pumping through your vessels, full of red blood cells, proteins, and platelets. There are forks along the way as the vessels change in size and branch around the body. Now imagine you get to work and your boss begins yelling at you for something a coworker did. Or perhaps you didn't even make it to work on time because you got stuck in traffic. Or maybe you didn't even make it to the highway because you spilled your coffee and had to go home and change... What happens to your blood flow now? It is pumping much harder and faster! There is increased pressure on the walls of the arteries. More pressure leads to a more turbulent blood flow which causes micro damage at all those branch points in the vessels.
What does the body do when the walls are damaged? Well, it sticks some squishy cholesterol in there of course! Unfortunately this doesn’t always stay squishy for long; the walls get fatter (arteries get narrower, increasing the pressure), more damage occurs, and hardened plaque and clots occur. It is much tougher to pump blood through these stiff, narrow arteries instead of a wide, elastic vessel. Now the heart may weaken as it has to work extra hard to pump the blood.
And this damage, my friend, is the bottom line of cardiovascular disease, no matter how many eggs you eat for breakfast.
So how do we reduce this blood pressure?
Exercise is one of the first and foremost things you can be doing. Bodies were meant to move every single day. It also reduces diabetes and obesity which will exponentially reduce your heart disease risk. You may not be able to tell your angry boss to take a hike right now, but you can learn how to respond in ways that don’t turn your head into a steaming teakettle. Exercise to get out that energy. Meditation, yoga, rest, and play. Acupuncture does wonders to reset the way your nerves respond to situations.
What about diet? Many people eat the Standard American Diet (SAD). This consists of fast and processed foods which are devoid of many essential nutrients. Fresh fruits and vegetables will provide antioxidants that help protect your blood vessels against damage. Reducing the amounts of preservatives and chemicals in your food will cut back the inflammation in your body. Omega 3 fatty acids (best sources are fatty fish like mackerel and herring) are often extremely low in our diets. These essential fatty acids are used in our bodies to help regulate inflammation as well as the contraction and relaxation of artery walls. A diet of 5 fruits and veggies a day leads to 20% lower risk of coronary heart disease than those who ate 3 servings, according to the folks at Harvard University. Fiber found in fruits, veggies, beans, and whole grains, reduces cholesterol in the blood; it picks it up and carries it out and away. Did you know the average consumption of fiber in the US is less than 1/3 the recommended dose per day? We should aim for 35-50 grams a day.
Take home message: eat real food; include healthy fats and fiber.
Speaking of nutrition, making sure you have enough of the building blocks your body needs is important to stay healthy. Between the SAD and depletion due to medications; many people are low on vitamins and minerals that keep their heart happy. One of my favorites is magnesium. This mineral relaxes muscles, lowers blood pressure, and calms the mind. It helps the heart pump more effectively, decreases blood clotting, and even raises HDL (the “good” cholesterol) levels. Unfortunately, magnesium is depleted with stress. High sources of this mineral include sesame seeds, halibut, almonds, figs, and spinach among many others; however, processing reduces the magnesium content of food so we need whole, unprocessed foods in our diet. In the US, we average less than 1/3 of the optimal daily intake of magnesium.
Lastly, and most importantly, is to love and be loved. Numerous studies show how being involved in a supportive community is correlated with heart health. Surround yourself with people that make you smile, fill your world with comfort and encouragement.
"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." -- Charles M. Schulz