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Heart Health

Heart Health: How healthy is your lifestyle?

Heart Health

This month we turn our attention to heart health. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) still remains the biggest killer, accounting for 155,000 deaths per year, costing the National Health Service 8 billion pounds (1). The most common types are Coronary Heart Disease (narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries) and Stroke (rapid loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain).

The heart is responsible for pumping blood around the body, carrying all the essential nutrients to distal tissues and organs and collecting any waste products to the liver and kidneys for excretion. We often associate heart disease with old age, taking multiple medications and risk of serious complications or even death. However, even before this stage, suboptimal function can affect our general wellbeing. Poor circulation may lead to fatigue, memory problems or muscle pain for example. If they get overlooked, more serious complications can develop, so it is crucial to look after your heart with a healthy lifestyle.

Cholesterol – friend or foe?

Over the past 50 years, cholesterol has been demonised as the major cause of heart disease. The newest research however, has largely disproven this statement and we now know that although it is a factor, other elements should be taken into consideration. Cholesterol is a type of fat that is produced in the liver but we can also get from animal foods (eggs, meat, dairy). It is actually essential for the body, as a component of cell membranes and nervous tissue as well as a precursor to vitamin D, bile and some hormones. If the arteries get damaged, the body uses cholesterol as a protective plaster to patch up the walls and repair them. However, in the long term, this can lead to a build-up of plaques that could potentially be dangerous. As with everything, we need to keep it in balance. Although a low fat diet isn’t advisable, if your cholesterol levels are too high, there are ways to support your body to bring them down naturally.

Omega 3 fats (EPA and DHA) found in fish oils, have long been known for their benefits to heart health and unfortunately our diets are often lacking in those essential fats. Combining them with specific types of plant sterols provides an even better heart friendly combination. Plant sterols contribute to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels.

Most studies often use doses that would be very difficult to get from your diet alone, so if you have a problem with cholesterol it may be worth supplementing with a good quality product.

BioCardio - Concentrated Liquid Fish Oil
BioCardio – Concentrated Liquid Fish Oil

Protection against free radicals

We often hear about antioxidants and free radicals, but do we really understand what they are?

Free radicals are simply unstable molecules that result from everyday physical or physiological processes or come from our environment. They are unstable because they are missing an electron and they are looking to ‘steal’ one from another molecule, damaging them in the process. This ‘other molecule’ can be your DNA, other cells or cholesterol for example. Oxidative stress is strongly linked to cardiovascular disease through damage to LDL cholesterol and increased inflammation. Our body has many ways of protecting itself from free radical damage, but for this to be effective it needs several nutrients like vitamin E or C. Many plants contain very powerful antioxidants that have numerous health benefits.

One of the most researched for cardiovascular health is proanthocyanidins found in grapeseed and pine bark extracts. They help to maintain healthy blood vessels and capillary integrity and are up to 50 times more effective at scavenging free radicals than vitamin E and C.

The secret lies in colour and flavour. Plants produce different chemicals that protect them from predators, these are often pigments, so the brighter the colour the better it is for you. Great examples include bilberries or turmeric. Anthocyanosides in bilberries can help with elasticity and integrity of blood vessels making them stronger and less prone to the harmful effect of free radicals. On the other hand, curcumin found in the orange spice turmeric helps to support the immune system.

PhytoCell - Antioxidant Blend
     PhytoCell – Antioxidant Blend

Eating for your heart

The heart never stops, so providing a steady supply of nutrients and antioxidants from a healthy diet is key to optimum function. Foods that are specifically great for the heart include: pomegranate, beetroots and almonds. Beetroots not only contain many micronutrients, but are also a source in nitrates that help to maintain healthy blood pressure.

Increasing fibre intake from vegetables, flax seeds, chia seeds and grains such as quinoa or millet will help with healthy cholesterol excretion and blood pressure.

Amongst nuts, almonds prove to be true superfoods. A study from 2014 showed that a daily portion of 50g can reduce blood pressure and increase blood levels of vitamin E (2).

One heart friendly nutrient that is relatively difficult to obtain from diet is Coenzyme Q10. It is not considered as a vitamin because our body can make it, however the levels tend to decline with age.

Microcell CoQ10 200
              Microcell CoQ10 200

References
1. British Heart Foundation, 2014.
2. K. Choudhury, J. Clark, H. R. Griffiths. An almond-enriched diet increases plasma α-tocopherol and improves vascular function but does not affect oxidative stress markers or lipid levels. Free Radical Research, 2014; 48 (5): 599

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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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