Tag Archives: inflammation

The Best Plan for Natural Heart Health

Heart health is one of those things that we all know we should be taking care of, but don’t necessarily think about day to day until that horrible moment in the doctor’s office when you find out something is already wrong. That is not the best moment to be unprepared for. Maintaining natural heart health should be a priority for everyone, but deserves extra attention if there is heart disease in your family or if you have any contributing risk factors such as metabolic syndrome, MTHFR mutation, overweight, pre-diabetes or diabetes, or have an inflammatory disease. The great news is that a good plan for natural heart health is also a good plan for human health and will help you to become and stay healthy and vital in general and keep you feeling great into your later years. If you’re not sure about your heart disease risk, your Framingham Risk Score is the best way to find out how you stack up.

Key Elements for Heart Health:

Get Active

  • At least 20 active minutes every day this doesn’t have to be exercise, but you have to be moving! We’re all desk jockeys, so it’s important to remember that your body isn’t built for that. Lately I’m into doing these fabulous retro-90s 8 minute workout series – partly for the greatness of the workout and partly for the ridiculousness of the spandex. I’ll put the “8 minute Abs” right here, but have no fear. There are also 8 minute buns, legs, arms, and even 8 minute stretch.  Each one is just as awesome as the last. You’ll totally thank me for this:

  • Something that gets your heart rate up three times a week for 45+ minutes. If you’re a gym person, that’s awesome but I prefer to get outside and walk, jog, swim, dance, bike, kayak, toss a frisbee around, or generally do something fun. Besides taking care of my heart health gives me an excuse to do something fun three times a week! I get to legitimately put “dance” or “hike” or “kayak” on my calendar without guilt.

Natural Heart Health Diet

  • Balanced meals and snacks with higher protein, moderate carbohydrates and moderate fat. I like the zone diet which is 40/30/30, meaning 40% protein, 30% carbs and 30% good fats. The Mediterranean diet is also proven for heart health – this one focuses on lots of healthy veggies and fruits, good fats and proteins from nuts and olives and moderate lean meats and fish. Make sure fats are balanced between saturated (solid at room temp like meat and butter fat) and unsaturated (liquid at room temp).  Also minimize your sugar intake as much as possible.
  • Paleo and primal diet is great for so many reasons and it’s very popular right now, but it actually isn’t the best choice for your heart simply because the emphasis on protein, which usually ends up being meat protein, is higher than the average person needs.  If you’re an athlete, paleo is awesome but if you’re just kind of a normal person then this amount of animal protein can be more risky for your heart. It’s a great diet, just not perfect for this.
  • High fiber! This independently reduces the risk of death from heart causes as well as from cancer. At least 30 grams per day from your fruits, veggies and whole grains.
  • Ditch the processed foods – whole foods are the only way to go.
  • Reduce your total calorie intake. In developed countries, we tend to chronically overeat – for most people 2500 calories is enough, and for many it’s too much. Reduced calorie diets reduce the risk of death from all causes and are considered an “anti-aging” therapy.

Get Your Omega-3s (And Reduce Your Inflammation)

  • Inflammation is proving to be one of the biggest factors in heart health – along with every other type of health you have.
  • Fish oil improves heart health, reduces inflammation, stabilizes mood and reduces your risk of death from all causes. No worries if you’re not into fish, there are plenty of vegetarian options to supplement the essential omega-3 oils that we’re looking for.  Flax, hemp or mixed seed oils are great.  The emphasis should be on a mixed spectrum of beneficial fats but especially EPA and DHA.
  • There is a prescription fish oil but studies haven’t shown any difference between it and the over the counter fish oils.
  • 1500 to 2500 mg omega-3 per day, 5 days per week (I’m a huge fan of weekends off vitamins).


  • Magnesium relaxes smooth, skeletal and cardiac muscle and helps improve blood flow to heart muscle and can help those who suffer from chest pains and anxiety.
  • For natural heart health Magnesium Taurate is best if the heart muscle is weak and Magnesium Glycinate is best if there is a high-stress component. Here’s more detail about magnesium.

Support Your Nitric Oxide

  • Nitric oxide is the main molecule that your body uses to help open your blood vessels to allow smooth, easy blood flow when you need it.  It is one of the most important things your body does to keep circulation going to the areas that need it.  This makes it hugely important for your heart health.
  • The amino acid arginine is one of the main building block for nitric oxide, so 1000 mg of arginine on an empty stomach twice a day will help to open up those blood vessels – it’s great to take before a workout. For even greater results use sustained release arginine (Perfusia) which opens blood vessels and increases blood flow dramatically. The biggest issue with arginine supplements is that arginine is also the preferred food of the herpes virus and can cause outbreaks if you’ve already got the virus.
  • If arginine isn’t an option for you then boosting your nitric oxide can happen through lots and lots of dark green leafy veggies – especially beet greens, and also beets, beet juice or concentrated beet crystals in general. In fact because of this effect beets are the new performance enhancers for elite athletes because they help them legally boost circulation in key moments.

Stress Reduction

  • Because it’s just that easy to reduce stress.  Ha! I wish.  Still, reducing stress is very important – the most common time for heart attacks is Monday morning at 8 a.m. – no joke.
  • Meditation, yoga, laughter, whatever makes you happy
  • Working over 45 hours a week is not reducing your stress (just a hint and a reminder to myself too.)

    Reducing your stress will boost your natural heart health. Just take it from this frog. Also - the frog is from visboo and the quote was added by Amanda Hurt.

    Reducing your stress will boost your natural heart health. Just take it from this frog. Also – the frog is from visboo and the quote was added by Amanda Hurt. At least I think that’s how it all went down – so near as I can follow the interwebs.

Lose Weight if You Need To

  • Extra pounds mean extra stress on your heart, circulatory system, metabolism, hormones and antioxidants. In fact, for every pound of fat you lose your body can eliminate a MILE of blood vessels. Obviously losing a mile of unnecessary blood vessels is probably going to help with natural heart health.
  • Losing even 10 pounds can help lower your cholesterol between 7 and 10%.
  • Maintaining healthy body weight also reduces risk of death from other conditions such as diabetes, stroke, heart failure and some cancers.

An Aspirin A Day?

  • 81 mg baby aspirin has been suggested for primary prevention of heart attack and stroke and more recently some cancers.  It is still suggested by many doctors as an early therapy for heart disease and even many of the major health organizations.
  • Research about the effectiveness of aspirin is unclear – a recent meta-analysis published in PLoS One shows that there is an overall reduced risk of heart attack and reduced cancer mortality but an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeds, and hemorrhagic stroke. Talk with your doctor about this one, and maybe bring a copy of the full text of this research.

Reduce Your Blood Pressure

  • By any means necessary.  Having high blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors and everything we’ve talked about so far will help. If it isn’t enough, then try supplements or talk with your doctor about pharmaceuticals.
  • Even if you don’t like the idea of taking a prescription (it’s not natural after all), it’s still better to use a prescription short-term while you work on other things that might raise your blood pressure (like MTHFR, weight, stress levels, poor sleep, chronic dehydration) than it is to leave it elevated.  Once things are under control you can quit the medication.

Check your MTHFR Status

  • MTHFR is a genetic pathway that helps you to activate folic acid, which then helps you to keep levels of inflammation down and make nitric oxide effectively so it’s all tangled up in heart health.  If you’re not sure what the heck I’m talking about, you can read more about MTHFR in general here, and if you kind of think you  might be a mutant (like me) then check here.
  • If your doctor gives you a blank look when you ask them about MTHFR testing, which happens sadly often, then a great way to do it is to order a 23andme test kit to test your own genes (you also get to find out what percentage neanderthal you are, which is pretty awesome).  The awesome folks over at 23andMe got slapped by the FDA for coming too close to giving health advice, so now you have to run your results from the full test through the methylation analysis at Genetic Genie. Then the real fun begins!  MTHFR is ridiculously complicated, so it can help to work with someone but start here to find out the right dose of methylated folic acid for you (this is the active form that you can’t make if you don’t methylate properly).

Hang Out With Some Trees

Natural heart health is essentially the same as natural human health so start today.  You don’t have to do everything all at once and suddenly be the amazing vice-free human, just make small steps forward and keep at them.  If it takes you a year to change your diet, then it takes you a year.  Just as long as you keep it changed that was a year well spent. None of this has to happen overnight unless you’ve just been lucky enough to survive a heart attack, in which case you do have to do everything at once to make sure number 2 doesn’t get you.  For most people though, change can be gradual and easy.  Make sure you are working with a physician if you have high blood pressure, abnormal blood clotting, a strong family history of heart disease, or are having chest pains (and it’s kind of a good idea in general).

The 11 Factors that Cause Inflammation

Inflammation isn’t just caused by one thing. It’s caused by the totality of whatever is going on in your life right now, and some of those things are uncontrollable. There are 11 controllable factors that are known to cause inflammation so let’s talk about those. Most inflammation has to do with choices – the types of diets you choose, your stress levels, weight,  emotional terrain, hormone imbalance, toxins, food allergies and personal choices like alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs. Outside of this there are also things you don’t chose, like genetics along with viral or bacterial infections you may have. Clearly, inflammation is not a simple subject, which is part of why there is  so much heart disease, cancer,  joint pain and skin disease. Lets talk about causes – especially the ones you can control. Here’s a great picture of some of the diseases that are directly associated with inflammation:

Just like there are so many factors that cause inflammation, there are also so many consequences. This great picture was borrowed from this excellent post on foods that help inflammation.

Just like there are so many factors that cause inflammation, there are also so many consequences. This great picture was borrowed from this excellent post from LSU Ag center on foods that help inflammation.

  1. Overeating. Every time you eat you body goes through the process of metabolism. Metabolism is great and necessary – this is how your food turns into energy and useful nutrients in your cells. Metabolism also releases toxic by-products, your old friends the free radicals (if you can’t remember what a free radical is then check out this post on antioxidants). Eating is necessary, but overeating is not. In fact, in a survey of people who live to be over 100 years of age one of the only common factors is that they ate low-calorie diets. So essentially eating a little less than what you need gives all the benefits of good nutrition, where eating a little more causes inflammation. This is where nutritarian eating gets really important – getting the most nutritional value out of your food so you don’t have to overeat.
  2. Food Sensitivities. Obviously exposing your body to something every day that you react badly to adds up. I found out (entirely thanks to a patient of mine, who insisted if she had to do the “stupid elimination diet” then so did I) that I’m sensitive to both wheat and soy. Getting those two out of my diet has made a huge difference in my level of joint pain, my energy on a day-to-day basis and even my skin. If you don’t remember about food sensitivities or can’t remember how to test at home for free then look here.
  3. Gingivitis. Yes, it sounds ridiculous but floss every day and make sure you brush your teeth at least twice a day. If you have a chronic inflammation in your gums, or gingivitis, then it raises your total body level of inflammation. Even this insignificant thing adds up – and gingivitis has been shown to connect with inflammation specifically in the heart and blood vessels – which is something you don’t want. Approximately half of all adults in the US have gingivitis so talk with your dentist and take care of your mouth. This is one of the most common and most easily fixable factors that cause inflammation. Far more so than reducing stress (which has to be the most nebulous and difficult thing in modern society).
  4. Stress. I know it’s a hard one to change, but learning to cope with high stress levels and learning some stress-relieving tools can drastically improve your health. There is a reason why the most common time to have a heart attack is Monday morning at 8:00 am, and I’m pretty sure the timing has nothing to do with cholesterol. And yes – Monday morning at 8:00 am is a real thing.
  5. Not Enough Sleep. Sleep is a cornerstone of good health – this is when your body does a lot of the repair and restore functions, especially in your brain. Not getting it means that you don’t ever take out the trash, which obviously makes a mess in your body. Without sleep you don’t get rid of as many toxins, repair as much damaged tissue or get rid of those pesky free radicals. Getting enough sleep is vital to health.
  6. Lifestyle Choices. Choosing to drink alcohol to excess, smoke, or use recreational drugs takes a toll on your health. It’s not that I’m anti alcohol – I’m pro-moderation.  Especially during times where other stresses for your body are higher.  Ironically the times when you’re stressed and crazy as a human (which is when most people want to smoke and drink the most) are also the times when those behaviors will do the most damage because your body already has too much on it’s plate.
  7. Hormone Imbalance. Hormones and inflammation are tied together pretty tightly and if one side of the equation gets out of balance then the other side has trouble too. Just like hormones affect inflammation, inflammation affects hormones. There are some simple, gentle ways to begin to balance hormones (like seed cycling), but obviously if the problems are serious then it’s best to work with a practitioner or call me to schedule a visit because
  8. Obesity. As we discussed above there is a link between carrying extra weight and having higher than normal levels of inflammation. We don’t know why, but there are lots of theories about fat cells creating their own environment and secreting their own hormones and inflammatory proteins. This makes losing weight even more important for your health. Just like obesity creates more inflammation, inflammation makes losing weight harder. Reducing some of the other factors that cause inflammation can help your body to lose weight more easily.
  9. Family History. Some people do just become inflamed more easily than others. Heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and allergies all have some genetic link. Even if your family has a strong history of inflammatory disease you can still work to reduce your own inflammation – in fact doing the work to protect your health now will have a far greater pay off for you long-term because you may be able to avoid the family conditions.
  10. Environmental Toxins. Everything that you are exposed to – everything you breathe, touch, drink in your water or eat in your food has to be processed by your body and increases your likelihood of inflammation. This includes pesticides, herbicides, air pollutants, household chemicals and cleaners, food additives, flame-retardants in your furniture and perfumes. You are literally surrounded. It is unrealistic to think you can eliminate all toxins, but you can work to minimize them. The simplest steps are things like switching your body care, home fragrances and cleaning products to natural, less harmful alternatives.  Get a water filter, avoid processed foods and just generally try to avoid the yuck as much as possible.
  11. Chronic Infections. Sadly, many people have infections they’ve been carrying around with them for years. It is a sad but true fact that there are many walking wounded out there. One of the most common is gum disease, which is a bacterial infection that many bodies have to deal with day in and day out. Also many viruses can become chronic and often show up as non-specific symptoms or diseases such as chronic fatigue and Fibromyalgia. If you have any concern that this could be you then call your naturopathic doctor right away or schedule a visit with me.  Chronic infections are common and can certainly get in the way for good health.

Eliminating the Factors that Cause Inflammation Sounds Impossible

Yes – eliminating them completely is actually impossible in the modern world. The great hnews is that taking small steps works. These factors that cause inflammation are all things that you can chip away at in your own life.  If you’re only ready to make one change, then add flossing daily.  It’s a way bigger deal than people think. If you already floss, then see if you can make time and space for more sleep. If you floss and you’re sleeping enough for you then how about making your diet a little more nutrient dense?  Nutritarian eating is a great thing, just like focusing on anti-inflammatory foods. If you’re stumped about what are anti-inflammatory foods and what aren’t then here’s a handy post about it.

Do you know which foods cause inflammation? You can take this list to the grocery store.

Do you know which foods cause inflammation? You can take this list to the grocery store.


Just take everything one step at a time – don’t overwhelm yourself.  Having a healthy lifestyle isn’t about making drastic changes – it’s about doing small things on a daily basis that just turn into healthy habits over time. Reducing the factors that cause inflammation reduces your risk of heart disease, many types of cancer, neurological disease, joint degeneration, skin conditions and a host of other problems so it’s worth it to start taking small steps today.