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True hearts

It’s September again and time to think about your ticker during Irish Heart Month, which is why Rude Health’s guide to heart and cholesterol health is a must-read

Prevention

“Cardiovascular health is responsible for more deaths than any other single cause in Ireland,” says Matt Ronan of health store, Evolv in Enniscorthy, co Wexford. “Fortunately there is a great deal which can be done to improve outcomes – it’s about prevention. If there have been cardiovascular incidents in your immediate family then you should adopt a diet and lifestyle regime which has heart health built into it.”

“The best way to support heart health is to combine reasonable exercise with a good diet,” says Jill Bell of Well and Good in Midleton Co Cork. “One without the other is a waste of time, but the exercise needn’t involve intensive gym workouts and the diet doesn’t mean giving up all things delicious. Going for a brisk walk three times a week, being cautious about the amount of butter and saturated fats in your diet and eating plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrains are simple enough steps to promote a healthy heart.”

Pillars of wellbeing

“I believe there are three pillars of wellbeing to look at when protecting the body from heart disease,” says Barbara Cox, OatWell nutrition consultant. “Nutrition (introduction of heart-healthy foods and reduction of fatty, salty, sugary foods); Fitness (exercises in all forms from stretching to ultra marathons depending on your ability); Mindfulness (reducing stress to help keep the blood pressure under control).

“Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day. Oats are versatile and nutritious – the beta glucan, naturally found in oats, is one form of soluble dietary fibre that’s strongly linked to improving cholesterol levels and boosting heart health. Like many fibres, beta glucan is available in supplement form either in a powder or a cereal that can be conveniently added into your porridge, smoothies, baked goods like muffins and flapjacks.”

Mediterranean diet

“Eighty per cent of heart disease is preventable, simply by making a few dietary and lifestyle changes,” says Olive Curran, Galway nutritional therapist with PPC who make Eskimo-3. “Alongside taking plant sterols I recommend following the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. The plan includes lots of fruits, vegetables, olives, olive oil, legumes and wholegrains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats and wholegrain pasta. Enjoy moderate amounts of dairy (mostly as cheese e.g. ricotta and Greek yogurt), eat fish regularly, and have a low consumption of meat and meat products. A glass of red wine can be enjoyed with meals. The Mediterranean diet discourages the consumption of saturated fats and hydrogenated oils (trans fats), both of which contribute to heart disease, while spices and olive oil turn simple dishes into culinary delights.

“Omega-3 fats EPA and DHA from cold water fatty fish (sardines, anchovies, mackerel, salmon) have many benefits for heart health. They have been shown to lower triglycerides, balance cholesterol, regulate heart rate and make blood platelets less sticky, overall improving heart health considerably. Omega-3 fats are found in high amounts in oily fish and to a lesser degree in nuts and seeds. Taking a daily fish oil supplement can support your heart, brain, joints and skin and is a simple way to safeguard your health.”

Heart energy

“The heart is one of the hardest working organs within the human body,” says Dr Daniel Jones of Revive Active products. “Our heart requires energy to function and pump optimally, but both of these factors can be supported nutritionally. Co-enzyme Q10 is a natural energy generating molecule with antioxidant properties. It works with every cell throughout the body to provide cellular and whole body energy. L-arginine is an important amino acid in the production of nitric oxide (NO), which helps blood vessels to relax and expand increasing circulation. L-arginine supplementation has been shown to increase the production of NO, therefore increasing circulation and ameliorating cardiovascular risk. With the energy-boosting and antioxidant-protective effects of coQ10 in conjunction with the circulation-enhancing effects of L-arginine, the beneficial effects of these powerful nutritional supplements is clear.”

Stress & Lifestyle

“One vital area to be dealt with properly is stress,” says Matt Ronan. “Regardless of age or level of fitness stress is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke, and having a method of dealing with stress in your everyday life is important. Smoking is a huge contributor of risk for stroke and heart attack – this is widely known. Possibly largest on the list has to be diet. It is now an established scientific fact that heart disease is an inflammatory condition hugely contributed to by sugar which can be most effectively controlled through a good healthy diet which minimises the consumption of sugary foods, increases the amount of omega-3 oils and limits the omega-6 vegetable oils.”

Super heart supplements

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.

Blood pressure

“Raised blood pressure is the most common factor in heart disease, and there are lots of do’s and don’ts which can make a significant difference,” says Jill Bell. “Though sodium is essential for life, most of us take too much in our table salt, and this absorbs water which increases the volume of blood circulating in our bodies, which in turn means the heart has to work harder. Potassium is required by the body to work hand in hand with sodium to balance sodium levels. Along with magnesium it is often used to maintain healthy blood pressure and is found in bananas, figs and other fresh and dried fruit, spinach, broccoli and other fresh fruit and vegetables.”

Cholesterol

“The jury tends to be out on cholesterol,” says Jill Bell. “A reasonable amount is vital to life, but conventional wisdom which dictates that the amount in our bodies has to be strictly regulated is open to discussion. Patrick Holford and many others maintain that homocysteine levels in the body are a far more reliable indicator of potential heart disease than cholesterol levels, and homocysteine can be modified by using food supplements containing B vitamins and trimethylglycene (TMG).”

“High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors associated with coronary heart disease,” says Olive Curran. “Shockingly, four out of five people over 45 years have high cholesterol, and two-thirds of these are untreated. The Irish Heart Foundation recommends that healthy adults should have a total cholesterol level below 5 mmol/L. A simple blood test will measure your blood cholesterol level.”

Always consult your professional healthcare practitioner before making changes to your diet.

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