How to keep your heart in good health, naturally.
Cardiovascular disease remains one of the biggest health issues we’re facing as a nation. Currently, the British Heart foundation estimates that 435 people lose their lives to cardiovascular disease every single day. Ultimately, cardiovascular diseases cause more than 26 percent of all deaths in the UK, with approximately 160,000 deaths occurring each year. These statistics highlight just how important it is to look after our heart’s health.
Our diet plays a vital role in the development and prevention of cardiovascular diseases. “Current westernised diets are full of processed foods and refined sugars which can increase the risk of heart disorders compared to diets rich in vegetables, fruits and healthy fats such as the Mediterranean, which has been shown to lower the risk of heart disorders,” explains Egzona Makolli, technical nutritionist at Kinetic Enterprises.
“Eating too much processed foods, fried foods, refined foods and foods high in salt and sugar can cause heart diseases such as hypertension and can also lead to an increase risk of developing coronary heart disease or heart related disorders. It’s best to consume a healthy balanced diet low in refined sugar with plenty of fruit and vegetables and plenty of fibre.
“Fibre can be consumed from wholemeal, bread, oats, wholegrain cereals and plenty of fruit and vegetables. Aim to cut down on salt as too much sodium can increase the risks of developing high blood pressure and increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disorders.
“Eat fish at least twice a week, especially oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines as these are a great source of essential omega-3 fatty acids which can help protect again heart diseases. Consume a diet which includes an intake of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts and limits the intake of sugar, sweets and sweetened beverages.”
There are a number of nutrients that can support a healthy cardiovascular system. Nutritional therapist Katherine Pardo, head of nutrition at nutritional supplement company Nutri Advanced, highlights and explains the key cardio-protective nutrients:
Omega-3s – Widely studied for their protective role in cardiovascular health; experts now agree that a daily supplement of high quality stable omega-3 rich fish oil is a positive step towards promoting a healthy heart. The American Heart Association, The American College of Cardiology, The European Society of Cardiology and a number of other national cardiac societies now recommend the intake of 1g/day of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA for secondary prevention, cardiovascular prevention, treatment post myocardial infarction and the prevention of sudden cardiac death.
Vitamins B6, B12, Folate (5 MTHF) & Betaine – As many as one third of people with atherosclerosis have elevated blood levels of homocysteine, and major studies, such as the Framingham Heart Study and the Physicians’ Health Study, have linked elevated levels of homocysteine to increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Maintaining a balance of critical micronutrients, vitamins B6, B12, betaine and folate helps to support healthy homocysteine levels.
Vitamin E – Long regarded as an important cardio-protective nutrient, vitamin E has antioxidant properties, helps to protect endothelial tissue and may help to inhibit platelet aggregation, inhibit the adhesion of molecules on the artery wall, and has anti-inflammatory qualities.
Plant Sterols – Plant sterols are fats that are naturally present in plants and have long been studied for their effectiveness in lowering cholesterol. Whilst cholesterol is the most abundant sterol in animals, in plants more than 40 sterols have been identified, of which beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol and campesterol are the most common. Many clinical studies have confirmed the efficacy of beta-sitosterol in lowering plasma LDL cholesterol concentrations. Although plant sterols are consumed as part of the normal diet, the amount is not considered great enough to have a significant blood cholesterol lowering effect. Modern food processing and storage methods have also led to a reduction in dietary plant sterols. A recent study at the University of Guelph in Canada has shown that 400mg combination of sterols, a pine bark antioxidant and an essential fatty acid complex, taken once a day can significantly lower cholesterol.
Policosanol – is a unique natural product derived from different sources including sugarcane wax and the wax of the common honeybee. Policosanol derived from sugarcane wax has been extensively studied in Cuba over the last decade in both animals and humans. The results of these research studies indicate that policosanol significantly lowers cholesterol levels and may also have beneficial effects on other parameters of cardiovascular function, such as reducing platelet aggregation and inhibiting the development of atherosclerotic lesion.
Garlic – Well known for its anti-microbial properties, garlic is also a beneficial food for cardiovascular health. Key active constituents in garlic including allicin have demonstrated significant antioxidant effects. Garlic may also help to lower cholesterol, protect cholesterol from oxidation, protect against blood clots and reduce the risk of a heart attack.
Further Top Tips
As well as dietary changes, Makolli recommends watching your weight, increasing your levels of exercise and reducing alcohol consumption: “Lack of exercise can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, current guidelines state that individuals should do 150 minutes of moderate-intense activity every week, which can reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
“It’s also essential to manage your weight as being overweight or obese can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Limit your alcohol as alcohol can raise blood pressure, increase cardiomyopathy and contribute to irregular heartbeats.”