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Heart of the matter

Irish Heart Month is on all our minds in September, and this year is no exception. Here are Rude Health’s expert tips for keeping your heart in tip-top condition

“In Ireland approximately 10,000 people die annually from cardiovascular related illness,” says Gerald Colfer from health store Only Natural in Wexford. “However, many of these fatalities are preventable. Diet, exercise and supplements where applicable can all help to keep your heart healthy.” Anyone who has a family history of cardiovascular incidents should adopt a diet and lifestyle regime which has heart health built into it.

The Mediterranean diet

“The Mediterranean Diet is as much a way of eating as what is actually consumed,” says Jill Bell of health store Well and Good in Midleton, Co Cork. “Modest alcohol consumption and little or no snacking between meals are the general rule, with low intake of dairy, moderate amounts of fsh and chicken rather than red meats, little processed food and a rainbow of fresh local fruit and vegetables high in antioxidants which combat oxidation damage to molecules in our bodies. And of course, olive oil.”

“Eat at least five servings of vegetables and four servings of fruits daily,” says Gerald Colfer. “The Mediterranean Diet is the ideal heart health diet and with its emphasis on fruit and vegetables, fish and olive oil it's a great model to follow.”

Controlling cholesterol

“The jury is still out on cholesterol levels,” says Jill Bell. “Cholesterol is vital to life, but it needs to be kept in check. Orthodox medicine tends to insist we should all have low cholesterol levels, but some natural health experts maintain that homocysteine levels in the body are a more accurate indicator of potential heart health problems, and these can be kept in check with the use of food supplements containing B vitamins and trimethylglycene (TMG).

“If a customer is concerned about raised cholesterol levels we would first emphasise dietary changes. Adding oat bran and linseeds helps with the elimination of cholesterol through the bowel, along with three cups of green tea a day, lecithin to help emulsify fat in food, plant sterols and red yeast rice extract. Milk thistle is useful for encouraging the liver to produce more ‘good’ HDL cholesterol to hoover up unwanted LDL.”

Super heart supplements

“Garlic supplements can keep cholesterol and blood pressure under control,” says Gerald Colfer. “Omega 3 supplements are all round ‘good guys’ when it comes to heart health. They control triglycerides and blood pressure, reduce inflammation and keep your arteries free from plaque. Plant sterol and red yeast rice supplements both have cholesterol-lowering properties. Hawthorn herbal tonic lowers blood pressure and generally strengthens the heart. Turmeric helps to fight inflammation, new research shows that constant, low level inflammation can be a causative factor in heart disease.”

“Omega-3 fatty acids, either from plant sources or fish, is by far the most popular supplement for heart health,” says Jill Bell. “Omega-3 is a powerful anti-inflammatory, and works to thin the blood. Garlic has a similar blood-thinning effect, but neither should be taken with any prescribed blood-thinning medication. Stress is often the root cause of raised blood pressure, and magnesium is our number one choice to help dilate blood vessels as well as to support the nervous system.”

Get exercising

Exercise daily for a health heart,” says Gerald Colfer. “Enjoy the serotonin-boosting effects of exercise while helping to tone the heart muscle and maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure.”

“Reasonable exercise is as important for the heart muscle as for, say muscles in our legs,” says Jill Bell. “Aim for a brisk walk three times a week.”

Heart supplements A-Z

Amino acid L-Arginine – can help lower blood pressure and help protect against heart disease.

Cayenne – opens up the cardiovascular system and makes it easier for blood to flow through the blood vessels, helping to lower blood pressure.

Co-enzyme Q10 – nourishes and strengthens the muscles of our body, particularly the hard working heart muscle.

Chromium – helps maintain normal blood sugar levels.

Fish oil supplements – impart an improvement in cardiovascular risk and help to thin the blood. A supplement of fish oil with omega-3 will cut down on unhealthy fats called triglycerides.

Green tea – a relaxing drink thought to be helpful in controlling cholesterol.

Hawthorne – as a tea or tincture, is an effective and gentle modulator if the heart is either over- or under-performing.

Magnesium – maintains the regularity of the heartbeat as well as keeping blood pressure within the normal range.

Potassium – as a food supplement can be very effective in reducing blood pressure.

Sterols and stanols – found in nuts and grains, these compounds help control cholesterol levels. Also available as supplements.

Vitamin C – strengthens artery walls, protects against plaque deposits, and increases the availability of nitric oxide, which helps to improve blood flow.

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