Advice For Nurturing A Healthy Heart

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We've all heard the statistics - heart disease continues to rank as America's #1 cause of death; cardiovascular disease and stroke now account for at least 40% of all American deaths; approximately one in two American women will eventually die of heart disease or stroke (compared with one in 25 who will eventually die of breast cancer).
Healthy dietary habits, regular exercise, rest, smoking cessation, and certain dietary supplements can help you reduce some of the major risk factors for heart disease and stroke, which include high blood cholesterol, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and obesity. Hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) is directly linked to an increased risk for heart disease and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries).

While acupressure is an essential part of nearly every cell in the body, when it is either produced to excess internally or taken in overload through the diet, crystals of cholesterol begin to deposit on the inside of the arteries, blocking blood flow to the heart. Inadequate levels of thyroid hormone or insulin may also increase total cholesterol levels. The low density lipoproteins (LDLs) are the worst type of cholesterol, and are responsible for causing atherosclerosis. High-density lipoproteins (HDLs) may actually help prevent atherosclerosis by helping to flush LDL from the body. And since the amount of LDLs in your bloodstream is directly related to the amount of saturated fat, trans-fatty acids (trans-fats), and total cholesterol in your diet, the goal here is to shoot for a higher ratio of HDL to LDL. There are a number of ways to do this.

As I mentioned, trans-fats and partially hydrogenated oils contribute to rising levels of LDLs in the bloodstream. Trans-fats are found in most margarine, vegetable shortening, many baked goods, fried foods, and some meat and dairy products. You want to avoid these foods and read labels to see whether or not the product contains saturated fats or trans-fatty acids. On the other hand, the beneficial HDLs can be increased by foods like fish (high in omega-3, polyunsaturated fat), flaxseeds (also help decrease triglycerides), nuts, and seeds. Other foods that have been studied and shown to be protective for cardiovascular health include prunes, apples, oats, garlic, soy protein (25 grams/day), green tea, wine, olive oil, and whole grains.

Furthermore, there is great debate on the issue of diet as it relates to heart disease. Some medical experts advocate a high-carbohydrate, low fat diet; others a low-carbohydrate, high protein diet. Both scenarios can be problematic. Whenever a greater quantity of carbohydrates enters the body than can be used immediately for energy or stored in the form of glycogen, the excess is quickly transformed into triglycerides and stored in this form in the fat tissue. This can lead to obesity and increased risk for heart disease. Likewise, when people have more proteins in their diets than their tissues can utilize, a large portion of the excess is stored as fat, again increasing your risk for disease. I believe that eating in moderation and choosing the right kinds of fat (unsaturated), eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, adequate protein in the form of fish, legumes, and free-range poultry and lean meats, and plenty of fiber is a good place to start.

There are also nutritional supplements that may help augment your diet when it comes to preventing or reversing heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils or vegetable sources such as flax seed oil have been shown to help lower both cholesterol and blood pressure. Garlic, guggul, artichoke leaf extract, licorice root extract, hawthorn and green tea have studies supporting their use for high cholesterol, too. However, licorice root can sometimes negatively affect the blood pressure, so if you have high blood pressure, I would not recommend supplementing with licorice. Also, magnesium, carnitine, coenzyme Q10, thiamine, folic acid and arginine, all have heart healthy benefits. Please talk with your health care provider before embarking on any new dietary supplement program.

And last, but certainly not least, relaxation is one of the most overlooked treatments of heart disease. Stress may contribute to the high rates of morbidity and mortality that we see with heart disease. Acute and chronic stress have been shown to increase levels of blood cholesterol and have been associated with medical coronary events. Stress can decrease blood flow to the heart by constricting blood vessels, thus increasing the workload on the heart. Transcendental meditation, yoga, moderate exercise, relaxation therapy, and even simply laughing can all help manage stress and ameliorate hypercholesterolemia.

Whereas conventional methods of treating heart disease can fail (sometimes due to issues of cost, adverse drug reactions, or difficulty following dietary recommendations), the information provided here may give you other options in your quest for cardiovascular wellness.

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