It’s with you wherever you go. Its subdued lub-dub sound may help you fall asleep at night. Or its pounding can be part of your most exciting experiences. It isn’t you, but you won’t last long without it. Your heart keeps the blood of life flowing through your veins and arteries every moment of every day of your life, delivering oxygen and nutrients to every part of the body.
Getting better acquainted with that fist-sized organ in your chest might help you — or someone you love — enjoy improved cardiovascular health for a long, active life.
The Bad News
The term “heart disease” includes a variety of problems affecting the heart and blood vessels including hypertension (high blood pressure), atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in arteries) and heart attack, together the leading causes of death in North America. Heart disease affects more men, but it also kills women. In fact, more men have heart attacks, but more women have fatal heart attacks. There are an estimated 70,000 heart attacks each year in Canada causing about 19,000 deaths.
A stroke is the sudden death of brain cells caused when blood flow is interrupted to part of the brain. A stroke may cause paralysis, speech impairment, memory and reasoning loss, coma, or death. Although it affects the brain, stroke is considered a type of heart and circulatory disease.
Health Canada, offers a “Healthy Heart Kit” online (http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ccdpc-cpcmc/hhk-tcs/english/index-eng.php). It states:
"Two out of three Canadians have one or more of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as smoking, high blood pressure, and elevated blood cholesterol. Well over a third of Canadian adults lead a sedentary lifestyle. And just under half of all Canadians are overweight."
The Good News
A healthy approach can strengthen your heart and enhance overall health and longevity. Health Canada also tells us: "Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is largely preventable. Furthermore, the benefits of CVD prevention extend to other areas of chronic disease. Many of the lifestyle practices that endanger Canadians’ cardiovascular health also contribute to cancer and lung disease."
Since most of the major risk factors for heart disease are PREVENTABLE, this means YOU are the most important factor in your present and future heart-related health.
Eating well and losing weight for a healthy heart
The first recommendation a doctor is likely to give a patient with concerns about heart disease is to lose weight.
"Eat well" can sound a bit boring, but it can be a life-saving strategy all the same. Before you or someone you love becomes a heart disease statistic, take a new look at the classic elements of a healthy diet.
1. Balance - eat foods from different food groups. Canada's Food Guide is one reference: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index-eng.php
2. Portion sizes - You may be eating more than you need simply because there's too much on your plate. Take smaller portions and wait at least 15 minutes after you eat before deciding you're still hungry.
3. Variety - As North Americans we are fortunate, we can choose from a wide range of fruits, vegetables, berries, nuts, meats, fish, legumes, dairy products and seafood at almost any time of year. Enjoy a variety of non-processed foods for more of what your heart needs.
4. Three important allies - Antioxidants, Fibre and Good Fats. Recent discoveries show how fibre can help prevent insulin-related illness and health problems. Antioxidant fruits, berries and vegetables help slow the aging process by neutralizing free-radicals, unstable molecules that can destroy cellular integrity. Healthy omega-3 fatty acids support cellular flexibility for heart and brain health.
5. Keep it Fresh; Keep it Raw - Fresh raw or lightly cooked foods retain more of their natural goodness and their vitamin and mineral content. Try eating raw, fresh foods for a week and see how you feel.
The Diabetes Connetion
Excess weight not only puts an extra load on the heart, being overweight also impairs blood sugar balance and this can lead to increased risk factors for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Diabetes, Pre-diabetes, Insulin Resistance and Metabolic syndrome, sometimes called Syndrome X, are all conditions related to your body's relationship with insulin and they all increase your risk for heart disease.
PolyGlycoPlex®, PGX® for short, is a unique complex of naturally occurring, water-soluble polysaccharides (dietary fibres) that supports healthy weight loss and blood sugar balance. PGX has a positive impact on blood sugar levels and provides appetite control support even for those who are obese. In clinical studies PGX was found to be extremely effective in promoting healthy weight loss, while reducing food cravings and balancing blood sugar and cholesterol. PGX is a safe, stimulant-free supplement made by Natural Factors and available in meal replacement drink mixes, in granular form to sprinkle on moist foods, and as PGX Daily Ultra Matrix, the most advanced form, in soft gelatin capsules with medium chain triglycerides from coconut oil. Be sure to drink at least 8 ounces of water with every serving of PGX.
Know your heart-friendly fats
Without fat our skin, joints and muscles would have no lubrication and we couldn't live! But not all fats are good for you. Dietary fat falls into three main groups; saturated, unsaturated (mono and polyunsaturated) and trans fatty acids (or trans fat).
Saturated fats from animal source are ‘hard’ fats such as butter, lard and fat in meat. They are used in many processed foods. We need LESS saturated fat in our diets.
Unsaturated fats can be monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) or polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). They include oils such as olive oil and vegetable oils such as flaxseed and sunflower oil, and fish oils.
Trans fatty acids, or trans fats, are formed when vegetable oils are hardened using hydrogen (hydrogenated). Trans fat is found in deep fried foods like french fries and fried chicken, as well as doughnuts, cookies, pastries and crackers, and many processed foods. Too much trans fat may contribute to plaque in the arteries and increased heart disease risk.
Omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 are healthy oils found in fish and certain plants and vegetables (flaxseed, borage, evening primrose, olives). Omega-3, -6 and -9 are all fatty acids, chemical compounds used and converted by the body to serve many important functions. Omega-3 and omega-6 oils are considered ‘essential fatty acids’, or EFAs, because our bodies do not make them—they must be supplied through the diet. EFAs can moderate or influence inflammation, mood, behavior, metabolic processes, cellular signaling and even DNA. A healthy balance of EFAs is essential for heart health.
Heart Health Supplements: Which to choose?
Many nutritional supplements and combinations of herbals, vitamins, minerals and coenzymes are heart "specialists", providing key support for a healthy heart and circulatory system. The experts at Natural Factors have provided the following list of the most tested and trusted supplements for heart health with brief descriptions of their known actions and benefits.
- RxOmega-3 Factors - Oils from fish provide key essential fatty acids. Flaxseed Oil is the best plant source of Omega-3s.
- Coenzyme Q10 for cellular energy production and heart health; especially if statin drugs are being used. Ubiquinol is a very high-absorption form of CoQ10.
- Vitamin E, the leading fat soluble antioxidant vitamin, is shown to support heart health. Vitamin C works with Vitamin E to support a strong heart and fight free radicals.
- PGX®, PolyGlycoPlex® is a proprietary soluble fiber blend that helps control appetite and weight gain, and balances blood glucose.
- Antioxidants, including the "Rich" line of concentrated berries, (CranRich, BlueRich, AcaiRich, GojiRich and more); grape seed, green tea, mangosteen, pomegranate and Resveratrol, from red grape skins, are potent antioxidants.
- B12, B6 and Folic Acid in combination can reduce levels of homocysteine, an amino acid produced during protein metabolism. Elevated homocysteine levels are indicators of increasing risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Ginkgo Biloba can enhance circulation, especially to the brain and extremities.
- Cayenne boosts peripheral circulation, improving organ function and speeding delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells. It can provide powerful cardiovascular support.
- Garlic can reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels and may lower blood pressure.
- Calcium & Magnesium work together to keep joints flexible and muscles strong, including heart muscles. Magnesium also stabilizes the heart's electrical system and may reduce clotting risk.
Of course, you can't expect supplements alone to make up for a horrible diet and couch potato lifestyle. Use these to enhance your health in combination with exercise and improved nutrition. Consult your natural health professional about any change in your diet or your supplements, especially if you are taking medications.
Taking care of your self is not a selfish pursuit. Think of all the people who rely on you. You are an important person. You influence others. You care about people and they care about you. You have a responsibility to stay healthy so you can do more, produce more, contribute more, love more and share more.
The information in this article is presented with only one goal — to help you live a long and healthy life. I hope you will "take it to heart".
Shauna Macdonald, Health Reporter for Natural Factors Nutritional Products
Sources: Health Canada web site; National Geographic web site