Even though February is the month of the year associated with raising awareness for heart health, we should be looking for ways to improve our cardiovascular health year-round. Cardiovascular disease still remains among the top ten causes of death in men and women in Canada and therefore should be a top health consideration.
As we now know, cholesterol is just one part of the equation. Some patients with high cholesterol levels never develop cardiovascular disease, while many heart attack victims don’t have high cholesterol levels. Other important factors need to be taken into account when evaluating and addressing the risk for heart disease including hereditary predisposition, lifestyle choices, overall inflammation, homocysteine level, elevated stress level, and more.
Statins are a class of drugs called HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors. These drugs have typically been prescribed by doctors with the intention of helping their patients achieve certain cholesterol ‘targets’.They act by blocking the enzyme responsible for producing cholesterol in the liver. Several negative side effects are associated with statin drugs. Instead of “mopping up” the cholesterol problem, real prevention should focus on containing its spill through targeted lifestyle and diet interventions.
Unless you are afflicted by a genetic defect called familial hypercholesterolemia, you may not even need a statin drug to address high cholesterol. The goal is not to eliminate cholesterol but to maintain a healthy level of total cholesterol and optimal balance between the “good” (HDL) and the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol.
Prevention Is Key
Given the high prevalence of cardiovascular disease, one can easily assume heart disease and stroke are an almost inevitable part of aging in a developed country. The truth is these conditions are largely preventable.The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation even estimates that 8 in 10 cases of premature heart disease & stroke are preventable through healthy lifestyle behaviours.
Making Healthy Lifestyle Choices
In order to significantly lower our risk of heart disease and improve our overall health, the American Heart Association recommends embracing these basic guidelines:
- Getting Active
All it takes for a healthy heart is a minimum of 2 ½ hours of moderate physical activity each week. In addition to lowering blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, practicing a physical activity regularly offers several other health benefits including achieving a healthy weight, preventing Type 2 diabetes and improving moods and sleep quality.
- Optimizing insulin levels
Chronically elevated insulin levels can lead to insulin resistance, a major risk factor for heart disease. It is best to limiting fructose intake to a maximum of 15 grams per day and to avoid all artificial sweeteners. In some cases, it might be better to eliminate sugar and grains until insulin level is back within a healthy range.
- A Healthier Diet
Most of us neglect to drink plenty of water every day, so that’s the best place to start! Another important factor for cardiovascular health is to limit or eliminate all processed foods from the diet, and to eat organic foods whenever possible. Replacing all trans fats (vegetable oils, margarine, etc) with healthful fats such as the increasingly popular coconut oil, olive oil, avocado or raw butter helps balance out cholesterol level. Last but not least, increasing the amount of fiber in our diet as this increases excretion of bad cholesterol. We can get more fiber through whole grains and fresh vegetables. We should aim to obtain at least 25 grams of fiber per day and to consume at least one-third of our food raw.
- What About Salt?
For many years, health authorities and experts have been recommending limiting our salt intake to protect cardiovascular health, but they usually oversee the difference between harmful processed table salt and natural unprocessed sea salts. Natural salts – such as Himalayan salt – are loaded with health-promoting essential trace minerals. They should be part of our diet, as long as we maintain an optimal salt-to-potassium ratio.
- Nutritional supplements
- Bergamot extract
The fruit of Citrus Bergamia contains a high concentration of diverse bioflavonoids making it very beneficial for a number of cardiovascular processes. Some of the flavonoïds found in Bergamot help reducing cholesterol levels by a similar mechanism of action as cholesterol lowering drugs, without their side effects. Other flavonoids increase HDL cholesterol to scavenge free cholesterol. Further, flavonoïds have antioxidants properties which prevent inflammation associated with vascular damage. A Bergamot extract standardized to contain 25-28% bioflavonoids constitutes an effective option to manage the risks associated with cardiovascular concerns. It can also be combined with statin drugs.
- Red Yeast Rice Ankascin 568-R
Red Yeast Rice (RYR) has been used for cardiovascular support in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. This process creates natural compounds which have been clinically shown to partially inhibit the production of cholesterol in the liver. RYR products have acquired a controversial reputation over the year because they usually contain a phytochemical substance called monacolin K which has the same structure as lovastatin and similar side effects as statins drugs. Red Yeast Rice with Ankascin 568-R ensures the clinical efficacy of cholesterol lowering drugs without the undesirable statin-related side effects. For more information on the benefits of RYR 568 check out the our full blog here
- Bergamot extract
Other useful nutritional supplements options for cardiovascular health include:
- B vitamins complex
- Vitamin D3
- Antioxidants complex containing all 8 molecules of vitamin E
- Nitric oxide based products
- A combination of taurine, lysine and vitamin C
In spite of the prevalence of cardiovascular disease and the fatality associated to it, isn’t it exciting to learn that most risk factors for heart disease and stroke are in our power to control? Changing our habits is obviously more demanding, but it is also far more efficient and rewarding than a lifetime use of dangerous and controversial prescription drugs such as statins. This switch from a disease-management approach to a health-promoting lifestyle is the difference between a number and target strategy and embracing an optimal health mindset.
- Heron, M. “Deaths: leading causes for 2004.” National Vital Statistics Reports. 2007; 56 (5): 1-95.