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Heart Disease

Heart Disease: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Risk

Simple Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease

February is National Heart Month, a campaign run by the British Heart Foundation to raise awareness of the UK’s biggest killer. Heart disease is responsible for around 75,000 deaths in the UK each year, and many of these deaths are preventable.

The single biggest modifiable risk factor for heart disease is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. One of the most common disorders in the UK, hypertension is defined as persistent raised blood pressure above 140/90mmHg.

Unfortunately hypertension, often referred to as ‘the silent killer’, typically has no outward symptoms. Around 13 million people in the UK suffer with hypertension, but 6 million of these remain undiagnosed (1).

Rule of 3: Everyday changes to protect your health

Taking control of our health means identifying those factors within our control and taking positive action to eliminate them. Unfortunately, dramatic lifestyle changes can feel overwhelming. While your GP can advise on medications, exercise and dietary changes to address heart health, there are simple changes you can begin to make every day to kick start healthy changes.

Here are three simple snacks and three supplements which have been shown to reduce blood pressure.

3 Simple Snacks

1. Snack on almonds and cashews

Replacing your usual savoury or sugary snacks with a handful of cashews or almonds will help to regulate blood sugar levels and blood pressure. These nuts are among the best sources of dietary magnesium, a mineral responsible for dilating blood vessels and preventing spasms in the heart muscle. They also help to lower cholesterol levels. Studies have found nut consumption to be linked with an 8.3% reduced risk of heart disease (2).

2. Drink Hibiscus tea

A cup of hibiscus tea before breakfast lowers both diastolic and systolic blood pressure by more than 10%. A recent study found that one cup of hibiscus tea each day for four weeks was as effective as the drug Captopril in reducing blood pressure (3).

3. Get juicing

A daily juice or smoothie containing nitrate-rich vegetables offers a simple way to help reduce blood pressure. Nitrate-rich vegetables such as beetroot and kale are important for healthy blood flow, and lower blood pressure by dilating blood vessels (4). Pomegranate enhances this effect by enhancing the activity of nitrates. Beets blend well with apples and berries, while kale blends well with tropical fruits such as pineapple or banana.

3 Key Nutrients for a Healthy Heart

1. Garlic

A recent meta-analysis provides evidence that garlic supplementation significantly reduces blood pressure in those with hypertension. In this study, doses ranged from 600mg to 900mg daily (5). The active component of garlic, called allicin, is destroyed during cooking, so supplements are a good choice for maximum benefit.

2. Fish oil

Several studies have linked fish oil supplementation with reduced blood pressure in those with hypertension (6). As well as lowering blood pressure, fish oil supplements reduce inflammation and platelet aggregation (‘sticky blood’). The American Heart Association recommends that those with coronary heart disease should take 1g of EPA plus DHA from fish oil supplements each day.

3. Magnesium

Diets high in sugar and low in plant foods tend to provide insufficient levels of magnesium. This is a concern because magnesium is important for the dilation of blood vessels. A recent meta-analysis found that magnesium supplementation does indeed lower blood pressure, but that larger studies are needed to confirm these findings (7). Those interested in supplementing magnesium have a number of options. Magnesium can be supplemented as a topical oil applied to skin, as magnesium salts in the bath or as a traditional oral supplement.

References
1. Blood pressure UK. http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/mediacentre/Bloodpressurenews/UKhighbloodpressurerisesbutmorediagnosed. Accessed 18/01/2016.
2. Hu FB, Stampfer MJ (1999) Nut consumption and risk of coronoary heart disease: a review of epidemiologic evidence. CurrAtheroscler Rep 1(3):533-40
3. Harrera-Arellano et L (2004) Effectiveness and tolerability of a standardised extract from Hibiscus sabdariffa in patients with mild to moderate hypertension: a controlled and randomised trial. 11(5):365-82
4. Kapil et al (2015) Dietary nitrate provides sustained blood pressure lowering in hypertensive patients: a randomised, phase 2, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Hypertension 65(2):320-7
5. Reid et al (2008) Effect of garlic on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis. B
6. Breslow (2006) n-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. Am J ClinNutr. 86(6):1477S-1482S
7. Jee et al (2002) The effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomised clinical trials. Am J Hypertension 15(8):691-6

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National Cholesterol Week

This week is National Cholesterol Week, HEART UK’s annual event to raise awareness of the dangers of high cholesterol. Heart disease is the UK’s biggest killer, accounting for around a quarter of all deaths. The good news is that if you have raised cholesterol alongside other markers of heart disease, it can in almost every case be reversed through dietary and lifestyle measures.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance manufactured by the liver and it plays an important role in your body. It is a component in the membrane of every cell in your body. It is also involved in hormone production and helps the nervous system to function properly. When there is inflammation or damaged tissue in the body, cholesterol can accumulate in the areas in need of healing. This may be why raised cholesterol can signify damage in your arteries. LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol is a particular concern because this type of cholesterol can become oxidised, leading to tissue damage and hardening of the arteries.

There are three cholesterol readings that you can have. Total cholesterol, LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and HDL (‘good’) cholesterol. LDL transports cholesterol from the liver through the bloodstream to sites where it is needed. HDL then transports it back again, and so HDL removes unwanted or damaged cholesterol from your arteries. Ideally HDL should make up at least a third of your total cholesterol.

While cholesterol is used as a marker for heart disease, in order to get a clearer idea of your real risk, it’s important to consider this marker alongside other markers such as levels of triglycerides, blood pressure and homocysteine.

If you eat a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and fried foods, and low in protective fruits and vegetables, then cholesterol is likely to become damaged by oxidation. This type of diet also provides very little soluble fibre which is essential in eliminating excess cholesterol. In general, the best diet for lowering LDL cholesterol is a low GI diet. This type of diet has been found to be particularly effective in reducing LDL and triglycerides and raising HDL (1). A huge benefit of a low GI diet is that it has greater levels of soluble fibre which helps to remove LDL cholesterol from the body. It also provides plenty of antioxidants, helping to combat oxidative damage.

Here are 10 simple ways to reduce your cholesterol level, improve your lipid profile and lower your overall risk of heart disease.

Lettuce
Leafy Greens boost magnesium, helping to relax your arteries.

1. Increase leafy greens and add raw nuts and seeds to your diet.
These boost magnesium, helping to relax your arteries.

2. Drink 8 glasses of water each day.
Proper hydration reduces blood pressure by lowering levels of sodium inside cells.

3. Reduce your salt intake.
Reducing sodium levels can help to relax the arteries.

4. Add plant sterols.
Plant sterols lower ‘bad’ cholesterol by blocking its absorption. They are present in soya beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

5. Increase low GI carbohydrates.
Soluble fibre, in oats, lentils, beans and vegetables, helps to reduce levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol. Beta-glucans in oats are particularly beneficial.

6. Add antioxidant-rich foods every day.
Antioxidants ‘mop up’ damage within the arteries. Try blueberries, strawberries, plums, tenderstem broccoli and spinach.

7. Boost your omega-3 intake with oily fish, flaxseed oil or omega-3 eggs.
Omega-3 fats help to lower triglycerides, lower ‘bad’ cholesterol and increase ‘good’ cholesterol.

8. Add garlic, ginger and turmeric to your cooking.
Garlic promotes healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Turmeric and ginger help to relax the arteries.

9. Consider supplementing Co-Q10 and Vitamin C.
These nutrients reduce damage in the arteries and lower blood pressure.

10. Boost your B Vitamins.
Homocysteine is actually one of the strongest predictors of heart disease (2), damaging the lining of the arteries, but B vitamins convert it into a harmless substance. If you have raised homocysteine levels, then supplementing with B Vitamins can help. Try foods rich in folic acid such as broccoli, asparagus and spinach.

References

1. Stroke Statistics. British Heart Foundation and The Stroke Association. 2009.

2. Jardine MJ et al (2012) The effect of folic acid based homocysteine lowering on cardiovascular events in people with kidney disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2012;344:e3533.

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