5 Natural Ways to Protect Heart Health, Lower Cardiac Risk
5 Natural Ways to Protect Heart Health
Cardiovascular disease is the umbrella name given to conditions which affect the heart and blood vessels.
Primary cardiovascular disorders include atherosclerosis, stroke, congestive heart failure, dyslipidaemia (hypercholesterolemia), hypertension (high blood pressure), hypotension (low blood pressure), intermittent claudication, metabolic syndrome, myocardial infarction (heart attack), Raynaud's syndrome and rheumatic heart disease.
Around 7.4 million people are living with heart and circulatory disease in the UK, and it is the cause of more than a quarter of all deaths, at nearly 170,000 a year.
There are over 100,000 hospital admissions due to heart attacks per year and over 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests with a survival rate of less than one in ten.
Around 1.4 million people alive in the UK today have survived a heart attack. Over 900,000 people in the UK are living with heart failure. Strokes cause over 36,000 deaths a year while also being the largest cause of severe disability.
Atherosclerosis, dyslipidemia, hypertension and metabolic syndrome are the most common cardiovascular conditions. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Today, in the UK, roughly 3.9 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes, a leading cause of heart disease.
People with diabetes are up to 50% more likely to have heart attacks. There are, however, many natural ways you can help to protect your heart health.
Here are our top 5 tips for preventing cardiovascular disease.
1) Reduce your stress levels
Long-term stress is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. So how can you reduce your exposure to stress and improve the way your mind and body respond to stressful situations and anxiety?
Here are some tips and techniques you can try.
Eat magnesium foods every day
Magnesium is nature’s tranquiliser, helping to soothe your nervous system and calm the adverse effects of stress and anxiety.
It’s common to have insufficient levels of magnesium, as we use it for so many processes in the body. Modern life and everyday stresses such as overcommitting, lack of self-care and eating on the fly all contribute to depleted magnesium levels.
Our bodies don’t store magnesium, so you need to continually replenish it, particularly during busy times and periods of stress.
Every day, ensure you eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods like spinach and other dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds including linseeds and chia seeds.
Any beans (but broad beans are exceptionally high), whole grains like buckwheat and oats, mackerel, and avocados. Alongside a healthy diet, to boost levels during trying times, you might consider taking a supplement.
Another effective and relaxing way to absorb magnesium is to have a luxurious soak in Epsom salts. If you do it before bedtime, it can also help to send you off into a relaxing sleep. Just chuck two cups into a warm bath and soak for about 40 minutes. If you’d rather, have an Epsom salts foot soak instead.
Clear hectic schedules and delegate more
This applies to both your work and home life. It’s so easy to take on too much, becoming overcommitted and overwhelmed.
What can you delegate? Can you drop anything from your schedule altogether? How much do you really have to commit to? And how often are you saying ‘yes’ when you could be saying ‘no’ to new obligations, responsibilities, and commitments?
Create some extra headspace and claw back some time to help create a sense of ease and lower your stress levels.
Getting worries out of your head and onto paper can be immensely powerful and help to eliminate feelings of stress and anxiety.
Counteract this by also listing things that you’re grateful for each day. Reflecting on positive thoughts and the good things in your life can be an excellent way to destress.
Cut out excessive caffeine and alcohol
When you’re overcommitted, or tired from lack of sleep due to stress, it’s easy to reach for energy drinks or an extra cup of coffee here and there.
Likewise, having a glass of wine to relax and unwind from the stresses of the day can be a go-to for many of us. The reality, though, is that caffeine and alcohol can heighten a sense of tension and induce feelings of anxiety.
For more simple and effective ways to cope with stress, click here.
2) Eat omega-3s, especially fish oils
Research shows that a diet high in fish can decrease the risk of a heart attack. Eating oily fish three times a week is therefore an excellent way to promote a healthy cardiovascular system.
Fatty fish contain omega-3 acids called EPA and DHA which can help reduce high blood lipid levels (fats), improve vascular function, lower high blood pressure and stroke risk and protect against arrhythmia and heart attack. EPA and DHA can also potentially reduce chronic low-level inflammation which can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Omega-3 fats, particularly those found in fish are considered the most essential healthy fats for feeding the brain and boosting mood.
And low levels of these can make us more susceptible to depression. So adding these to your diet will also help to alleviate the adverse effects of stress, a contributing factor for heart disease.
If regularly including oily fish is tricky, consider taking a daily supplement. Some research suggests that fish oil supplements may also help to protect heart attack survivors. In one clinical trial, survivors who took a high-dose fish oil supplement for six months showed considerably improved heart function and substantially reduced inflammation biomarkers, that went way beyond recommended care guidelines.
Another study effectively reduced the rate of cardiovascular events in individuals with a history of heart disease or Type 2 diabetes using a daily fish oil high in EPA.
Statin-treated adults with heightened triglyceride levels saw a 25% reduction in their relative risk of heart attacks, strokes and related cardiac events compared to a placebo control group – all from taking a purified EPA fish oil.
If you’d like to give supplements a try, WFH Quattrocardio fish oils are scientifically formulated to support the health of the cardiovascular, immune, neurological and skeletal systems.
Oily fish include sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring. Aside from oily fish, other excellent sources of omega-3 fats are shellfish, walnuts, chia seeds, linseeds, hemp seeds, egg yolks and avocados.
3) Increase your antioxidant intake
Whether it’s pesticides, heavy metals, air pollutants, medication, alcohol, cigarettes, stress, fried foods, high blood sugar or poor diet, we are all grappling with an onslaught of environmental toxins.
The upshot? A build-up of toxins leading to increased levels of free radicals causing oxidative stress, damage to your DNA and cells, inflammation, illness and disease.
Antioxidants are found in vitamins, minerals and other composites found in foods. They protect us by keeping free radicals in check, helping to guard against diseases including heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and premature ageing.
We naturally produce a certain amount of free radicals as waste byproducts of chemical processes in the body. They also play a vital role in immunity, helping us to fight infection.
Problems start when the delicate balance shifts and we have more free radicals than our bodies can cope with. Oxidative stress takes over, and our health starts to suffer.
Nature, in her wisdom, has also designed us with the ability to generate antioxidants naturally. It’s when free radicals outnumber antioxidants that you need to worry.
Eating the right foods and taking care of mind, body and spirit can boost your antioxidant levels and improve your chances of staying healthy.
So, stress management is vital as is eating plenty of foods abundant in antioxidants daily. You want to focus on foods rich in vitamins C and E, flavonoids and carotenoids including beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Also minerals including zinc, selenium and copper.
Eat vegetables full of colour, including dark leafy greens, think of a rainbow. Mix up cooked and raw vegetables, and add a couple of fruit servings a day too. Your body can convert beta-carotene to vitamin A, but you can also find direct vitamin A sources from liver (organic and grass-fed), other organ meats, some fish such as salmon, egg yolks and full-fat milk and yogurt.
Good sources of selenium include brazil nuts, lean red meat and chicken breast, wholewheat pasta, shiitake mushrooms and eggs. Zinc-rich foods include oysters, organic grass-fed chicken legs, beef and pork, hemp seeds, oats and lentils.
4) Walking and other regular exercises
Regular exercise increases heart strength, gets your blood pumping, and takes the pressure off your arteries, decreasing blood pressure. It also helps to relieve stress.
Walking at a brisk pace is excellent for heart health, and taking a daily stroll can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Thirty minutes of walking a day for five days a week can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by 19%. It also has the potential to reduce cardiovascular events by 31% and cut the risk of dying by 32% for both men and women.
Walking as little as 5.5 miles per week at a moderate pace can make a difference. But the speedier and further you walk, the better the benefits.
Other cardiovascular exercises like cycling, running, swimming, or rowing are also great. Ideally, aim for 30 minutes of physical activity a day.
5) Take vitamins D3 and K2 together
Vitamins D3 and K2 work synergistically to benefit both bone and heart health. These days, low vitamin D status is not uncommon, and in the UK, one in five people have insufficient levels. With this in mind, ensuring you’re regularly topping up your vitamin D isn’t a bad idea.
Research shows that patients with vitamin D levels lower than 15 nanograms per millilitre have a higher risk of developing heart problems, including coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
A five-year study by the Medical Research Council found that 80 participants with chronic heart failure who took a daily dose of vitamin D, improved their heart pumping function by 8% compared to those taking a placebo. The trial ran for one year, with patients taking 4,000IU of vitamin D3 daily.
Overall, more research is needed to determine whether or not low vitamin D levels are a significant enough risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease. However, vitamin D3 is known for its powerful anti-inflammatory effects and can lower oxidative stress, an underlying factor for all chronic illness including cardiovascular disease.
It’s hard to get adequate vitamin D through diet. You can get minimal amounts from animal foods such as full-fat butter, offal, eggs, fish and fish liver. So it’s essential to take a daily supplement, especially outside of the summertime where we have limited access to sunlight.
Public Health England recommends children from the age of one year, and adults should take 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day (400 IU) during autumn and winter. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the safe upper limit for daily vitamin D supplementation in adults is 4,000 IU. That said, some studies have found that daily doses of 10,000 IU are well tolerated in adults.
It is possible to get vitamin D toxicity which usually happens with extremely high doses. While an adult should be able to handle up to 4,000 IU a day, taking a supplement at a maintenance dose of 1,000 IU is a good start until you get your vitamin D levels tested.
It’s best to get them checked by your GP, or you can buy a testing kit. You can tailor your vitamin D intake from this point.
Vitamins D3 and K2 have a symbiotic relationship. For example, one small 2015 study found that patients with chronic kidney disease had reduced progression of atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries) by taking a daily supplement of 400IU vitamin D with 90?g of vitamin K2.
Those taking pure vitamin D didn’t experience the same significant effects.
While research is conflicted, observational studies have recognised a link between vitamin K2 and heart health.
A seven to ten year Rotterdam study, published in 2004, followed 4807 male participants, tracking their intake of vitamin K2. The researchers linked higher levels with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and severe aortic calcification.
Another long-term study, spanning several years, following 16,057 women aged between 49 and 70 years of age, associated an increased vitamin K2 consumption with a reduced risk of heart disease.
You can find vitamin K2 in fermented and animal foods such as natto, fermented soy, hard cheese, butter, egg yolks, organ meats, and dark chicken meat. Gut microbiota is also able to synthesise vitamin K2. You can take it in supplement form too.
In this article, we’ve provided a small selection of tips to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Eating a healthy diet full of brightly coloured vegetables and fruit and consuming oily fish three times a week is a good start.
Getting regular aerobic exercise, preferably 30 minutes a day, is essential as is managing your stress levels. Topping up insufficient vitamin D3 and K2 levels may also help.
There are many additional ways you can optimise your heart health. For more helpful and illuminating information, check out our other articles.
This article is by Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, a Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.
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