Written By: Nelson Narciso, DNM®
Did you know that heart disease (HD) is the second leading cause of death in Canada, second only to cancer? Statistics Canada reported in 2009 that heart disease accounted for 20.7% of all deaths[i]. That works out to be just over 71,000 Canadians. Men account for a slight majority of these deaths at 21.6% and women are just below at 19.7%[ii]. These numbers should hopefully dispel the commonly held belief that men are at much greater risk than women. On a positive note, heart disease and stroke-related deaths have declined 33% since 2000[iii] but, with 71, 000 annual deaths, far too many Canadians are still dying unnecessarily.
Fortunately heart disease can be readily prevented through strategic dietary, lifestyle and supplement choices. A heart healthy diet has been shown to lower the risk of dying from heart-related reasons by an incredible 35%! When you break down some of the figures by the type of cardiovascular event they’re equally impressive: a 14% risk reduction of having a heart attack, a 28% reduction of congestive heart failure and a 19% drop in stroke[iv].
There are some basic dietary principles that are proven to be effective at reducing your risk. One well-researched, common-sense strategy is to eat more fruits and vegetables. Researchers have shown that for every serving of fruit or vegetables consumed there’s a subsequent 4% drop in coronary heart disease[v]. Combine the two together and increase servings to more than one a day and you can expect even more dramatic results. Researchers at Oxford University published a study showing that consuming at least 8 portions of fruits and vegetables a day had a 22% lower risk of dying from heart disease.[vi] Remember to vary your fruit choices and choose fruits and vegetables that reflect a rainbow of colours. These colourful foods are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, all of which are heart friendly.
Once upon a time fats were viewed by many as enemy number one when it came to heart health. This was especially true in allopathic circles. Part of a heart-healthy program was the avoidance of fats with little regard for differentiating between the good and the bad. Fortunately, this “bad” practice of clumping all fats into one category has passed. We now have evidence that healthy fats support a healthy heart. Of particular importance are the polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. These include fish, flax, chia, hemp, walnuts and dark leafy greens[vii]. Fish are an especially important source because they not only have the omega-3 fat, alpha linolenic acid, but they also posses the all-important EPA and DHA fats needed for optimal health in general and heart health specifically. Polar opposite to healthy fats are trans fats. These have been shown to dramatically raise the risk of heart disease.[viii]Avoid foods that say trans fats or hydrogenated fats and don’t just read the “nutrition facts table”, which often states zero trans fats. Read the ingredient list. Health Canada allows food manufacturers to state the food is free of trans fats when it has less than 0.2 grams per serving.[ix] The problem with this arises when someone has several servings of a so called trans-fat free food.
Sugar has not only been shown to impact your waistline and type II diabetes but it has an impact on the heart as well.[x] Sugar intake has been shown to increase several markers of heart disease.[xi] This may be in part due to the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which have been increasingly implicated in heart health especially for diabetics.[xii] Especially noteworthy is the fact that high fructose corn syrup is problematic in that it seems to have greater impact than glucose.[xiii]
Like diet, exercise has also been shown to play an important role in heart disease prevention. Exercise was shown to lower levels of a blood marker known as C-reactive protein that has been linked to an elevated risk of heart disease.[xiv] Exercise benefits the heart in numerous ways. It strengthens the heart and cardiovascular system, lowers blood pressure, improves circulation, lowers bad LDL, raises good HDL cholesterol and helps with weight management[xv], [xvi]. That said, you can have too much of a good thing. Excess exercise, as in the case of marathon running, can cause permanent heart damage.[xvii]
Exercise alone shouldn’t be the only lifestyle choice you make. Reducing stress should be another. Chronic stress may predict the occurrence of heart disease.[xviii] It’s not entirely clear what mechanisms are involved in this association but it’s worth noting. Therefore, it’s a good idea to manage stress and engage in stress-reducing activities like yoga and Tai Chi. Both have been shown in research to benefit the heart.[xix], [xx]
Although nothing is more important than diet and lifestyle, supplementation can play a very important supportive role. Hundreds of studies have shown the heart health benefits of supplementation. These include:
- Multivitamins (such as Progressive Multivitamins)
- men and women that use a multi have fewer heart attacks than those who don’t[xxi]
- Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, E and beta carotene (such as Progressive Multivitamins and Vitamin C Complex)
- Fish oil (such as Progressive OmegEssential)
- lowers high blood pressure
- reduces inflammation
- improves blood vessel elasticity
- Vitamin D (such as Progressive Sunshine Burst)
- Low vitamin D levels were associated with increased risk of “heart failure, sudden cardiac death, stroke, overall cardiovascular disease, and cardiovascular death.”[xxv]
- Vegetables and Fruits
- Since most people consume well below the recommended levels, supplementing with products such as VegeGreens and PhytoBerry is a good form of “health insurance.” These products are also rich in antioxidants.
- Whey Protein
So, if you want to avoid dying of heart disease, follow a program that incorporates a healthy diet, balanced lifestyle and supportive supplementation should dramatically lower the risk of developing heart disease and perhaps even reverse it for those who already have it.
[iv] Circulation. 2012; 126: 2705-2712
[v] Ann Intern Med. 2001;134:1106-1114.
[vi] Eur Heart J (2011) 32 (10): 1235-1243
[vii] Circulation. 2002; 106: 2747-2757
[x] Circulation. 2002;106:523.
[xi] The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism October 1, 2011 vol. 96 no. 10 E1596-E1605
[xiii] March 5, 1989 The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 264, 3674-3679.
[xiv] Aronson, D. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Nov. 16, 2004; vol 44: pp 2003-2007. News release, American College of Cardiology.
[xvii] Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Volume 87, Issue 6, Pages 587-595, June 2012
[xxi] Journal of Nutrition (2003;133:2650?4)
[xxvii] J Clin Hypertens (Greenwich). 2006 Nov;8(11):775-82
[xxviii] British Journal of Nutrition (1993) 70, 139-146
[xxix] CLIN INVEST MED, 12: 343-349, 1989