How to Help Your Heart

As most of us already know, heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S. And this is true not just for men but for women as well. Once women are past menopause, their rates of heart disease go way up, so that older women are just as likely as men to suffer from a heart attack.

The information I am sharing today has mostly been gleaned from Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life by Dr. Claudia Welch. I have been finding this book to be fascinating, filled with information from a wide variety of traditions, including both Western and Eastern medicine. I believe this combination of studying ancient methods of healing while also looking to the latest research and developments in modern science is bound to give us the broadest base of knowledge and the greatest depth of understanding when it comes to our health.

"Persistent underlying inflammation in the body is seen with increasing certainty as a major trigger of heart attacks," says Dr. Welch. This may not be news to you. But persistent underlying inflammation can be completely silent. There may not be any indication that anything is wrong. And a heart attack can often, especially for women, come completely out of the blue. Most women who suffer from a heart attack do not have arterial blockages. Strange, yet true. Their arteries around the heart are often completely clear.

Factors that increase the risk of chronic inflammation include:
*genetic predisposition
*birth control pills
*a diet high in sugar and poor-quality fats
*excess weight and obesity
*not enough exercise (and too much exercise!)
*environmental toxins

Looking at the above list, you can see there are many factors which are within our control. Besides our genetic predisposition, which of course we cannot change, everything else can be adjusted to reduce our level of silent inflammation.

Let's look at diet.

Fats are a key factor in either maintaining excellent health or hastening the onset of disease. For many years, we heard recommendations about reducing saturated fats and cholesterol. Unfortunately, this advice was misguided and turned out to cause more problems than it solved. It turns out that TRANS FATS are the real problem. These are the man-made fats created by partially hydrogenating vegetable oils. Trans-fats are found in margarine, shortening, many baked goods such as muffins, cakes, breads, biscuits, pie crusts, and even canned products such as soups, stews, processed meats, hot chocolate mix, and many more. If there is one type of fat to avoid completely, it would be these trans fats. "Even low levels can be detrimental to your health." (p. 135)

What kinds of fats are heart-friendly? The fats found in oily fish are the best, containing high levels of omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. Grass-fed butter, meats, cheeses, and egg yolks contain Vitamin K-2 which plays a key role in keeping the arteries healthy and stopping calcium from depositing on the arterial walls. However, these same products when not from grass-fed animals are completely lacking in K-2. The oils from nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, and coconut are all fine in small amounts.

Sugar is the other major cause of inflammation in the body. Most Americans eat a diet high in refined carbohydrates which are composed mainly of sugars. Alcohol is another sometimes overlooked source of pure sugar. Sugar is sneaky. It hides in almost every processed product we purchase. The other day I used a quart box of organic beef broth from Trader Joe's. I never would have guessed that it contained sugar! I had no idea until I read that label. Tiny amounts of sugar are probably inescapable, but large servings of sugar in candy bars, cakes, cookies, ice cream, desserts, and drinks can all be avoided. Cut back on your sugar intake for the sake of your heart, as well as your waistline.

In the days to come, I plan to cover the subject of heart disease more thoroughly, addressing the issue of alcohol more specifically, as well as exercise. Stay tuned! And in the meantime, you can work on the dietary aspects we have already covered.