Our hearts are under huge pressure through poor diets and modern lifestyles. Here, Lindsay Powers, Nutritionist and Health Coach at Good Health Naturally, explains how we can put the nourishment back into this vital organ.
Heart disease is one of the biggest threats to public health in the UK today, with figures from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) stating that these conditions affect one in four people.
Whilst the BHF suggests that deaths from heart and circulatory disease have halved in recent years, it still accounts for a quarter of all deaths in the UK or 170,000 deaths each year. Figures from the BHF also state that there are around 7.4m people living with heart and circulatory disease in the UK, affecting 3.9m men and 3.5m women.
Whilst we are dealing with extremely large numbers here, the BHF suggests that since it was established and has been promoting lifestyle modifications, the annual deaths from heart diseases have actually halved. In 1961, more than half of all deaths in the UK were attributed to heart and circulatory disease, so there are some improvements based on its findings.
Know your heart
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of heart and circulatory disease diagnosed in the UK. It occurs when there is a narrowing of the coronary arteries due to a build-up of fatty deposits and other debris, leading to potential blockages and heart attack. This is the leading cause of death in the UK and worldwide.
Another common heart health issue is atrial fibrillation (AF), which is associated with an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). It is believed that this condition can also increase the risk of stroke.
Love your heart
There are some key measures we can take to support our long-term heart health. Quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight and take regular exercise are some examples. Aim to walk between three to five miles per day if possible, and practice exercises such as yoga and Pilates to support healthy blood pressure levels.
In terms of diet, clear away all the ultra-processed foods, as research shows they are linked with poor cardiovascular health. It also comes as no surprise that many processed foods contain high levels of sugar (often from hidden sources), as well as the more obvious sugary snacks, and sugar is the primary cause of inflammation. When you eat excess sugar, the extra insulin in the bloodstream can affect the arteries, leading to inflammation and hardening and damage to the arterial walls, known as atherosclerosis. This is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
The good news is that eating more plant foods is a really beneficial way to support heart health, and it’s really easy to add more veggies to soups, salads, stir fries and stews. Include more plant foods at every meal and snack, alongside lots of healthy fats, nuts and seeds and legumes as well.
To support intake of omega 3 fatty acids, aim for two to three portions of oily fish a week, and include walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds and hemp seeds for vegan options.
Include foods rich in polyphenols as these have been found to exhibit heart protective benefits. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants found in certain plants foods, such as fruit and vegetables, red wine, black and green tea, coffee, as well as nuts, seeds herbs and spices. Numerous studies have suggested that they can exert their positive effect in a number of ways, such as by delaying the progression of atherosclerosis, reducing inflammation, increasing NO production and a reduction in BP, as well as improvements in lipid metabolism and blood viscosity. Even more reason to add a small glass of red wine to your diet and some dark chocolate!
Nutrients for the heart
Magnesium is a critical mineral that plays a role in the prevention of heart and circulatory disease, yet figures show that around 50 per cent of the Western population do not get enough. This is mainly due to the magnesium content of our food, which is much lower than it was 50-100 years ago, primarily due to modern farming methods and food processing.
Low magnesium levels have been linked with CVD disorders, such as high blood pressure, AFIB, blocked arteries and cardiac arrests. Magnesium also plays a key role in relaxing the blood vessels to help the blood flow more freely, and low magnesium can play a role in angina, where the coronary arteries are constricted.
Magnesium also works closely with vitamins K2 and D3 to support proper calcium metabolism, and this is vital for heart health to prevent the deposits of calcium in the blood vessels.
With regards to K2, in particular, we are seeing lots more research coming out now in relation to its role in cardiovascular health. For example, adequate K2 has been shown to lower the risk of blood vessel damage by activating MGP, which inhibits calcium from depositing on the vessel walls. Likewise, low MGP can lead to the potential calcification of blood vessels, which can contribute to atherosclerosis.
Omega 3 fatty acids are also very heart friendly as their anti-inflammatory properties can help protect the blood vessels from inflammation and damage, as well as reducing overall triglycerides in the blood.
Enzymes such as serrapeptase and nattokinase are becoming more widely recognised now for the natural role they can play in supporting cardiovascular health. Serrapeptase and nattokinase can help target inflammation, as well as clean unhealthy debris from the blood vessels, supporting better heart and circulatory health. Their anti-inflammatory benefits are beneficial when we understand the role inflammation plays as a driver for atherosclerosis. Inflammation can damage the blood vessels, promoting the growth of plaques and even contribute to the greater risk of blood clots.