It’s the number one killer in both men and women worldwide. No, it’s not cancer but, rather, heart disease. Heart disease is responsible for more deaths in the U.S. than all cancers combined.
What is heart disease? It generally refers to a condition where there is a blockage or build up of plaque in your arteries — what is referred to more specifically as coronary artery disease. This process can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Most people are aware of the risk factors for heart disease: abdominal obesity (the apple-shaped body), high blood pressure and diabetes, family history of heart disease, hypertension, high-fat diet, smoking, alcohol consumption of more than two drinks per day, and stress. What most people don’t realize is that they can significantly reduce their risk of dying from heart disease by making changes in their nutrition and lifestyle.
As I discussed in some of my other columns, heart disease is caused by inflammation in your body. Inflammation causes the lining of blood vessels to be sticky and, therefore, more likely for plaque or “sludge” to be laid down in your blood vessels. To decrease your risk of heart disease, you must address factors in your lifestyle that cause inflammation.
1. Nutrition is always first and foremost on my list to address inflammation. The Mediterranean diet — which emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, high fiber foods and oily fish (and includes very limited amounts of saturated fats and processed foods) — has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease.
2. Exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week. Exercise has been shown to prevent 30 to 40 percent of heart attacks and strokes.
3. Aspirin therapy can benefit certain people in reducing their risk for a heart attack or stroke, but due to the risks of aspirin therapy, this decision must be made on an individual basis that is best determined by a conversation with your physician.
4. Supplements can play a role in decreasing your risk of heart disease:
• Fish oil is powerful in decreasing inflammation and lowering triglycerides. The dose is 1 gram per day of DHA and EPA.
• Magnesium can play a powerful role in prevention and treatment of heart disease and high blood pressure. Some studies have shown that 15-50 percent of the population is deficient in magnesium. The dose is 400-800 mg daily.
• Coenzyme Q 10 is a strong antioxidant that can be used for high blood pressure, heart failure and prevention and treatment of muscle injury from the cholesterol medications called statins. The dose is 50-150 mg daily.
• Hawthorne is a botanical that can help reduce blood pressure and lower your risk of heart disease. The dose of the standardized extract is 100-250 mg daily.
5. Stress has been shown to increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Although it is often not possible to take ourselves out of a stressful lifestyle, having a daily practice that helps you relax — like yoga, meditation or breathing exercises — can minimize the damage stress does to your body.
6. Smoking and excessive alcohol intake can increase your risk of dying from heart disease. There are many resources to help you quit smoking. In Arizona, the Arizona Smokers’ Helpline, (800) 556-6222, is a wonderful resource to help you put down those cigarettes.
Heart disease is a preventable illness. The earlier you institute these lifestyle changes, the less likely it is that this disease will come knocking on your door.
• Heidi Rula is a physician at Integrative Care for Women in Mesa. Reach her at (480) 699-2508 or integrativecareforwomen.com