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:
- 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.
- 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.)
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
- Just because this is the best thing ever, I have to mention it every chance I get.
- TREES MAKE YOU HEALTHIER.
- There, I said it. If you’re at all intrigued there’s a whole article about it here.
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).