NATURAL MEDICINE: More useful tips for your heart

By on February 17, 2015

The statistics about heart disease are everywhere. It’s the No. 1 cause of death in the United States with more than 600,000 fatalities every year, or one out of every four deaths. In this country, 720,000 people have a heart attack each year and it’s the primary killer of women but only one in five women believe it’s her greatest threat.

The list goes on, but I didn’t write this column to scare you with abstract statistics. Instead, I want to encourage you to make some changes.

You know you are heading in the wrong direction when you get blood work back and your cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar are creeping up. Or your blood pressure is trending up year after year. Maybe a loved one is pushing you about seeing the doctor, but you don’t want to be on a prescription for the rest of your life.

Start taking your health into your own hands and make some changes.

High blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, and excess alcohol use put you at a higher risk for heart disease. Compared to other communities, exercise is not the problem here in Jackson, but this alone is not enough. There are quite a few additional things you can and should do.

Start by cutting down on sugar and refined carbs and by reading labels. Instead of buying a PowerBar or processed energy food, make a mix of cashews, almonds, cranberries and raisins. Stop the sodas and instead drink an Arnold Palmer or a sparkling water. Try an orange or a piece of dark chocolate after dinner instead of the ice cream.

Switching to a more plant-based diet also helps. At a conference last year speaker Michael Greger, MD, asked the question “Is heart disease a choice?” He presented study after study showing that eating a mostly plant-based diet (this does not mean eating simple carbohydrates) eliminated hypertension, decreased cholesterol and triglycerides, and, most obviously, decreased obesity.

Decrease your alcohol intake. The American Heart Association states that one drink a day for women and two drinks for men can actually be tolerable for your heart – that’s one 12-ounce beer, five-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. More than that amount is damaging. As a naturopathic physician, I counsel my patients on ways to give their bodies a break from toxins and this is a god place to start. Drinking moderately three to four days a week is a better solution.

Stop smoking! Full disclosure: your columnist is no angel. I smoked in college and tended bar. I quit because chemicals in tobacco cause damage to your heart and blood vessels causing atherosclerosis. If you stop the damage to your vessels by quitting and sticking to it, that blood vessel damage can be reversed to that of a non-smoker in only five years.

Decrease your salt. Salt levels can be high if you eat processed foods. Instead of picking up fast food for dinner for the family, grab a roasted whole chicken and a salad from the grocery store. Change your salt at home to sea salt instead of table salt and try using less. A good start is to take the shaker off the table.

Get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Short sleepers (under 7 hours) have a 40 percent increased risk of developing coronary heart disease. Your body regenerates when you sleep, but less so if you’ve been drinking.

Know your blood pressure. If you are not exercising, a 30-minute walk five days a week will lower your blood pressure by 4 to 9 mm Hg.

Partner with a doctor to accomplish these steps and take an active role in your health plan. Ask questions. These are just a few steps you can take to make sure you do not end up a heart disease statistic. Your doctor can help direct you in additional steps to help you create better health.

If you have relatives who have suffered from heart disease, don’t give up and assume your fate will be the same. There’s a saying that genetics loads the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger. You can take charge of your health and avoid becoming a statistic. PJH

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