September is National Cholesterol Education Month, and September 29th is World Heart Day. The aim is to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease, cholesterol, and stroke. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death world-wide.
The European Society of Cardiology Guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention state that as much as 90% of the risk of a heart attack, stroke, or peripheral arterial disease can be explained by the following 9 risk factors (1):
- Poor eating habits
- Lack of physical activity
- Abdominal obesity
- High blood pressure
- Raised blood lipid levels
- Psychosocial factors
Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (CVD) affects the arteries. When the inside of the arteries become clogged up with fatty deposits, such as cholesterol, the blood supply to the body’s cells is reduced. This process is the main cause of heart attacks, strokes and even sudden death. There are many preventative measures we can take throughout life to reduce our risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Stop smoking and restrict alcohol intake.
- Get psychotherapeutic help if needed: mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, are associated with an increased risk of CVD.
- Lose weight, especially if you carry excess weight around the abdomen. This will help to lower blood pressure, blood lipids and the risk of diabetes and CVD.
- Aim to do between 2.5 and 5 hours of moderate intensity activity per week or 1.5 to 2.5 hours of vigorous exercise per week.
- Avoid sitting down for long periods. Engage in light activity throughout the day. Find activities that you enjoy and that can be incorporated into your daily routine eg: walking or cycling to work, going up and down stairs, carrying shopping home, cleaning the house etc.
- Eat a largely plant based diet including whole grains, fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds. Plant-based diets are associated with lower blood pressure, lower blood lipids, and reduced platelet aggregation than non-vegetarian diets. They also aid weight management, reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes (2,3). A high intake of flavanoids from fruit and vegetables is associated with reduced risk of mortality from CVD (4).
- Restrict consumption of meat, particularly processed meat. The problem with meat and dairy products is that they are rich in sulphur amino acids which may increase the risk of cardio-vascular disease (5).
Other than fruit and vegetables foods that are particularly beneficial for cardiovascular health include:
Nuts – eating peanuts and tree nuts is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and strokes. Research involving over 5 million people found that those who ate 28g of nuts at least 5 times a week, compared with people who hardly ever ate nuts, were at a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease (6,7,8).
Chocolate – contains polyphenols, especially flavanols, which exert a favourable effect on cardio-vascular health including decreasing platelet aggregation, lipid oxidation, insulin resistance and inflammation (9,10,11). Studies show a 50% reduction in mortality in those who eat dark chocolate.
Omega 3 fats – low incidence of sudden cardiac death is correlated with a high intake of omega 3 fats (12). These fats are found in oily fish, nuts, seeds and cold pressed oils.
The Role of the Gut in Heart Health
Evidence suggests that altering the balance of organisms in the gut, by using antibiotics for example, can affect the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and weight gain (13,14). So for a healthy heart it’s important to look after your gut. Some foods contain components that are beneficial to the microbiome. These include:
- Fibre from rye, barley, oats and berries
- Plant stanols found in grains, nuts, seeds and cold pressed oils
- Components in soy beans and oily fish.
Tom Oliver’s Products for Cardiovascular Health
The following foods and supplements may be useful additions to your heart healthy diet:
- Tom Oliver’s B vitamins
- Tom Oliver’s vitamin C
- Tom Oliver’s vitamin D with K2
- Tom Oliver’s Magnesium
- Tom Oliver’s Omega 3 Herring Caviar
- Tom Oliver Protein Powders – available as whey protein or plant based protein in a range of flavours
If you suspect you may be at risk of cardiovascular problems get checked out by your doctor.