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At the heart of our health, Jaunita May, Naturopath

If you’ve been contemplating a change in diet and lifestyle to improve your health consider starting with choices that will nourish your cardiovascular system. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death Australian me, and the second cause (after Dementia) of Australian women. CVD includes heart, stroke and blood vessel diseases and is Australia’s largest health concern. Accounting for one in four deaths in Australia, CVD claims the life of one person every 12 minutes.

Why is cardiovascular disease a major health concern?

(Statistics from the Australian Heart Foundation)

  • 2 in 3 Australians (12 million) are overweight or obese - numbers are rising

  • 4 in 5 Australians don’t do enough physical activity

  • 9 out of 10 Australians do not eat enough vegetables

  • CVD costs the Australian economy $5 billion each year, more than any other disease

Understand your cardiovascular system (CVS)

The CVS comprises of the heart, blood vessels and blood and is responsible for circulating body fluids to transfer nutrients and oxygen into interstitial fluid and then in to our cells. The heart circulates blood through approximately 100,000km of blood vessels, without missing a beat! This action relies upon the flow of electricity from the heart. In a simple explanation, the heart has four chambers. The right side of the heart collects de-oxygenated blood from the right atrium flowing to the right ventricle, then to the lungs for re-oxygenation. The lovely oxygenated blood from the lungs enters the left atrium of the heart to the left ventricle. Here it is pumped through the aorta passing into smaller arteries to transport blood throughout the entire body.

Common CVD conditions:

Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Hypertension affects 1 billion people worldwide. In Australia it is the most common health problem managed by General Practitioners (GP). 1 in 3 Australians over the age of 24 have reported high blood pressure. Hypertension is a condition where blood vessels have persistently raised pressure.

Apart from a trip to your GP, it is also possible to go to your local pharmacy or health practitioner for a blood pressure reading. See table below:

Source: Research Gate

Dyslipidemia or hypercholesteroloemia (high cholesterol)

High cholesterol affects 2 out 3 Australians. Cholesterol is a very important substance for hormone production (Vitamin D, testosterone, oestrogen) and fat-dissolving bile acids. Approximately 20% is sourced from your diet and 80% is manufactured from your liver and intestines. Cholesterol is packaged via the digestive system to travel safely in the blood stream, and are known as lipoproteins (lipid plus protein)

Types of lipoproteins:

  • Chylomicrons - transports fat from your food (triglycerides)

  • Very-low-density-lipoprotein (VLDL) - made by the liver and turned into LDL

  • Low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) - pure cholesterol, no triglycerides, circulates through body and deposits for cell repair in arterial walls.

  • High-density-lipoprotein (HDL) - removes cholesterol from circulation and arterial walls.

Having high LDL and lower HDL is correlated with higher risk of atherosclerosis (build up of fats in arterial walls). Over time the plaque can burst, causing a blood clot leading to an ischemic stroke. Additionally oxidative stress (elevation of free radicals to low body antioxidant levels) is also linked to atherosclerosis progression due to smooth muscle and endothelial dysfunction caused by stress. A diet high in carbohydrates can also increase cholesterol. High carbs causes the liver to increase triglycerides that are stored in the liver, also attributing to Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

How can we love our hearts more?

  • Mediterranean-style diet, an antioxidant rich diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, oily fish, whole-grains with low intake of meat and dairy.

  • Oats contain soluble fibre beta-glucan, which binds to cholesterol-rich bile acids. Plenty of research supports the consumption of oats to improve CVD. One Danish study found a diet including rye and oats, (but not wheat) lowered heart attack risk by 27%.

  • Beetroots regulate vascular function, try cold-pressed beetroot juice before exercise.

  • Reduce sodium (salt) intake, with most people consuming diets high in processed foods it is difficult to monitor how much sodium intake you are having daily. Read the packaging RDI for heart health is less than 2g daily.

  • Magnesium orotate supplementation of up to 500mg daily is helpful, also if you take medication. Research linking CVD survival rates improved 75%. Magnesium is essential for the transportation of calcium and potassium ions across the cellular membrane for energy production.

  • B complex vitamins are important if you take CVD medication. B vitamins can enhance your cardiovascular health, lowering plasma homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid produced when protein is broken down. High meat consumption can elevate homocysteine levels, which are linked to higher risk of CVD.

  • Exercise daily, 30 minutes 5 times a week of moderate exercise or 3 times a week for 25 minutes of vigorous activity.

  • Obesity carries a greater risk of hypertension and dyslipidemia, see your health practitioner if you need support to work towards a healthy weight range.

  • Quit smoking and reduce alcohol intake

  • Avoid trans saturated fatty foods such as deep fried foods, packaged chips, pastries, margarine, bakery bought cakes, cookies, shortening, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza. Trans fats increase inflammation and tumour necrosis factor and have been linked to higher mortality from CVD.

  • Coffee has been found harmful on the effect of arterial stiffness. A healthy switch is Cacao, rich in theobromine, research has found it can lower blood pressure, dilates arteries and improves blood flow.

  • Herbs to nourish the cardiovascular system: garlic, turmeric, olive leaves, ginkgo, rosemary, horseradish, gotu kola, cinnamon, dandelion, passionflower, hawthorn leaves and flowers.

  • Practice mindfulness: meditation, yoga, time in nature, creative activities

If you have concerns about your cardiovascular health make an appointment with your GP. For adjunct support for your heart health consider a natural health practitioner for a more targeted diet, herbal, nutrient treatment plan.

Take care of you and each other, Love and light ~ Jaunita May, Your Family Naturopath


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