4 simple tips to a healthier heart
Coronary heart disease (CHD), currently the leading cause of death in the United States for adult men, is a condition caused by the buildup of waxy plaque in the arteries that flow to and from the heart. Coronary heart disease also goes by some other common names, including coronary artery disease, heart disease and arteriosclerotic heart disease. CHD occurs when the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart narrow and sometimes harden, which over time can cause ruptures, heart attacks and other fatal conditions.
For the past several decades, clot-busting prescription drugs, tiny balloons implanted to open up arteries and bypass surgeries have all been on the rise. The result is that today CHD is considered more chronic than necessarily fatal, although these treatments are really resolving symptoms rather than the underlying causes of the disease.
All of these disorders are related to elevated inflammation levels – and as you’ll learn, by reducing inflammation, the root of most diseases, you place your body in a state that is conducive to healing.
Root causes of coronary heart disease
Arteriosclerosis, which is the hardening of the walls of arteries, is said to be partly a function of aging. Over time the smooth, elastic arterial cells become more fibrous and stiff. Calcium, cholesterol particles and fatty acids accumulate on arterial walls and form a swelling called an atheroma. Atheroma are capable of bursting, causing blood clots, and leading to heart attacks or strokes. In populations that eat an unprocessed diet, far less inflammation-caused arteriosclerosis and heart disease is present.
We now know that inflammation and heart disease symptoms are tied to free radical damage, or oxidative stress, and antioxidant levels in the body. When antioxidant levels are lower than those of free radicals, due to poor nutrition and other lifestyle factors, oxidation wreaks havoc in the body – damaging cells, breaking down tissue, mutating DNA and overloading the immune system. Environmental pollutants, alcohol, smoking, unhealthy fats and a lack of sleep can also generate a high level of free radicals.
New evidence: how to reduce genetic heart disease risk
A 2016 study found that living a healthy lifestyle by exercising, eating a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables and grains and not smoking can lower your risk of heart disease – even if you are genetically predisposed to the disease. According to The New York Times, “The investigators found that genes can double the risk of heart disease, but a good lifestyle cuts it in half. Just as important, they found, a terrible lifestyle erases about half of the benefits of good genetics.”
This ground-breaking research illustrates that you can naturally reduce your risk of heart disease. Let’s look at what foods, supplements, essential oils and lifestyle changes you can implement to achieve greater health and fight off coronary heart disease.
4 natural treatments for coronary heart disease
Adjusting your diet, reducing stress levels and regularly exercising are fundamental to controlling inflammation and, therefore, naturally treating and preventing coronary heart disease.
Many doctors place people on a treatment plan that includes both prescription medications and lifestyle changes. Depending on which healthcare professional you choose, your symptoms and how severe the disease is, you might be prescribed one or more medicines to treat your high blood pressure or high cholesterol or to prevent complications like diabetes.
However, many people are able to prevent CHD and recover from it naturally by maintaining a healthy lifestyle: changing their diet, stopping smoking, getting good sleep, adding in supplements and other changes discussed below:
- Avoid foods that make heart disease worse
When most people think of foods that increase chances of heart disease, fatty cuts of meat and fried food probably come to mind. For many years, the public was led to believe that cholesterol-rich foods and saturated fats of all kinds increased the risk for developing CHD. “The cholesterol hypothesis,” as it’s called, rested on the assumption that saturated fats raise cholesterol and that cholesterol clogs arteries.
The belief today is that elevated blood cholesterol is a symptom, not a cause, of heart disease. Whether or not someone’s blood cholesterol level is increased by eating a certain food depends on that person’s individual cholesterol makeup, and each person is different. Several recent studies have shown that the dynamics of cholesterol homeostasis and of development of CHD are extremely complex and multifactorial and that the previously established relationship between dietary cholesterol and heart disease risk was likely largely overexaggerated.
In the majority of people, the real cause of heart disease is inflammation.
Foods to avoid that promote inflammation include:
- Corn and soybean oils
- Pasteurized, conventional dairy
- Refined carbohydrates
- Conventional meat
- Sugars of all kinds
- Trans fats
When it comes to saturated fats raising cholesterol, the topic needs some explaining. Saturated fat does, in fact, do this, but not in what’s considered an unhealthy or unsafe way for most people. Certain saturated fats, when compared with polyunsaturated fats, do usually raise total cholesterol levels in most people, but we now know that total cholesterol is a poor predictor of heart disease in general.
In fact, saturated fats raise HDL cholesterol, which is known as the “good cholesterol,” while polyunsaturated fats lower this type — low cholesterol might even be worse than high!
So if the truth about saturated fat means that fatty foods aren’t the issue, what is the real cause of inflammation? The real key is eliminating all sources of inflammation from your diet: rancid oils, sugary foods and refined carbs, conventional meats, pasteurized dairy, trans fats and packaged goods in general.
- Consume more foods that heal heart disease
Instead of focusing on foods that reduce fat and cholesterol, we would be much better off making the goal to reduce inflammation.
The healthiest anti-inflammatory foods for fighting coronary heart disease are those beaming with antioxidants and phytonutrients that lower your immune system’s overactive response. These help fight free radical damage and target the problem where it starts by lowering oxidative stress. How do you know what the top antioxidant foods are? Anything loaded with fiber, grown directly from the earth and brightly colored is a good place to start!
Healthy fats and animal proteins have a place among other whole foods in a heart-healthy diet, too. When it comes to including healthy fats, the general effect of quality saturated fats in someone’s diet is to help balance the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterols. Regarding HDL cholesterol, some feel “the higher, the better,” but we know that the ratio of cholesterol is important too. Coconut oil, for example, raises HDL if it’s low and lowers LDL if it’s high. Other foods that help with this balance include grass-fed beef and cocoa – which contain stearic acid – and also butter, which contains palmitic acid.
If you look at evidence from many people living a traditional diet, saturated fats do not cause coronary heart disease. Foods containing saturated fats – such as full-fat dairy, organ meats, beef, eggs, lard and butter – are actually found in high levels in many of the healthiest, longest-living people that have been studied.
Foods that help reduce inflammation and, therefore, the risk of CHD include:
- Fiber-rich and antioxidant-rich foods of all kinds
- Vegetables – all kinds, including beets, carrots, cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, dark leafy greens, artichokes, onions, peas, salad greens, mushrooms, sea vegetables and squashes
- Fruits – all kinds, especially berries and citrus
- Herbs and spices – especially turmeric (curcumin) and raw garlic (also basil, chili peppers, cinnamon, curry powder, ginger, rosemary and thyme)
- Traditional teas – such as green tea, oolong or white tea
- Legumes and beans
- Healthy fats found in nuts, seeds, avocados, wild-caught fish, coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil
- Raw, unpasteurized dairy products, cage-free eggs and pasture-raised poultry
- Red wine in moderation
The Mediterranean diet is one of the most popular and effective anti-inflammatory diets there is. Foods commonly eaten in the Mediterranean region include fish, vegetables, beans, fruits and olive oil. These have been shown to lower cholesterol and triglycerides and reduce symptoms of numerous chronic diseases. Following this type of diet that is low in sugar, processed foods, preservatives, vegetable oils and artificial ingredients can also help you maintain a healthier weight.
In his book, Eat Dirt, Dr Axe talks about how inclusion of certain foods can treat another condition – known as leaky gut – which also causes chronic inflammation.
- Beneficial supplements to for fighting inflammation
You will get the most benefits for your health by focusing on eating real foods with natural, absorbable nutrients. The bottom line is that, while it’s helpful to be aware of certain nutrients that can help fight heart disease, eating a wide variety of whole foods and reducing toxin load in your body is by far the most important thing. However, some supplements can speed up the body’s ability to fight inflammation and heal itself.
Some of these supplements include:
- Omega-3 fish oil supplements or 1 tablespoon of fish oil, such as cod liver oil, daily
- Curcumin and garlic supplements
- Coenzyme Q10
- Vitamins C, D and E
- Try other natural remedies
- Essential Oils: There are many natural plant-derived essential oils that can help heal inflammation and symptoms related to heart disease. Some include lemon oil, lemongrass oil, frankincense oil, helichrysum oil and ginger oil. The active ingredients found in plants are their most potent in this concentrated form. Ginger essential oil, for example, contains the highest levels of anti-inflammatory gingerol, and helichrysum oil kicks off inflammatory enzyme inhibition, free-radical scavenging activity and corticoid-like effects.
- Exercise: While there are really too many benefits of exercise to list here, know that exercise helps restore and maintain cardiovascular health by improving blood flow, bringing more oxygen to your cells, managing hormones and blood sugar levels, and helping you relax. Try whichever type works best for you and your current level of fitness, including burst training, HIIT workouts, Crossfit, yoga, Tai Chi or simply walking more.
- Stress Reduction: Stress raises cortisol levels and interferes with hormone control and inflammatory responses when left unmanaged. Chronic stress caused by our modern, fast-paced lifestyles can affect every bodily system: suppressing the immune system, slowing metabolism, and stalling digestion, detoxification and cell regeneration. Some of the best ways to bust stress include nixing caffeine, smoking and alcohol from your routine, getting proper sleep, working out, praying, meditating, journaling, doing something creative, cooking or spending time with family and pets.
Begin incorporating one new anti-inflammatory food to your diet each day. Don’t be afraid to try new things and keep it interesting!
This article originally appeared on DrAxe.com and is republished here with permission.