10 surprising facts about heart health

Our holistic health experts reveal some facts and tips about heart health

1
Our hearts beat over 100,000 times every day and pump around 7,200 litres of blood a day, which is enough to fill a small paddling pool, according to the charity Heart Research UK (www.heartresearch.org.uk). Also, our hard-working hearts help our blood travel 19,000km every day – which is the same distance as a return London to Hong Kong flight!

2
“Magnesium plays a vital role in the production of ATP energy; muscles need this energy in order to relax,” explains nutritionist Sarah Flower. “The heart is a muscle and studies have shown that good levels of magnesium can help prevent stroke and heart attacks. Stress also depletes our reserves of magnesium so topping up is vital. Opt for magnesium-rich foods such as nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables and pulses such as red lentils. If you are concerned about your magnesium levels, take a daily supplement, but ensure it is magnesium citrate as this is the most bioavailable form.”

3
During the pre-menopause, which occurs during our forties, many women will start to notice changes in their bodies which can have an effect on heart health. Sarah Flower explains: “Premenopausal changes include changes to the blood vessel walls, making them more likely to form plaque, an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol and an increase in fibrinogen levels, which help the blood clot, increasing your risk of strokes and heart attack. All of these symptoms can be prevented from changes to the diet, such as increases in antioxidants such as lycopene, CoQ10, selenium and minerals such as magnesium and zinc.”

4
According to Heart UK, the cholesterol charity, (www.heartuk.org.uk) over half of all adults in England have raised cholesterol (greater than 5mmol/L). The charity recommends that healthy adults should aim for total cholesterol of 5mmol/l or less and LDL cholesterol of 3mmol/l or less. It also advises that adults at increased risk from a heart attack should aim for a 40 per cent or more reduction in their LDL cholesterol. It should be stressed that targets will vary from one individual to another, but as a guide, Heart UK recommends a total cholesterol level below 4mmol/l, an LDL cholesterol below 1.8mmol/l and a non-HDL cholesterol below 2.5mmol/L.

5
“Balanced vegan diets are packed full of heart-healthy choices, including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seeds,” says Heather Russell, a dietitian with The Vegan Society (www.vegansociety.com). “This way of eating is associated with lower blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index, which helps to explain why vegans are thought to have a lower risk of heart disease.” A 2002 study published in Public Health Nutrition showed that vegans had the lowest rate of hypertension and the lowest systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels of all diet groups, including vegans, vegetarians, meat-eaters and fish-eaters. A 2012 study, also from Public Health Nutrition, demonstrated that vegans had the least hypertension and the lowest blood pressure levels of all vegetarians, and notably less than meat-eaters.

6
“Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a great supplement for supporting the health of your heart,” says Jamie Lloyd, a fitness professional based in south west London (www.jamielloydfitness.com). “It helps to circulate oxygenated and nutrient-rich blood throughout your body. There has been a link between low levels of CoQ10 and congestive heart failure. So stock up on foods that are high in CoQ10 like liver, beef, sardines and mackerel.”

7
“Cholesterol, often thought of as being damaging to our health, is in fact vital for many functions within the body,” says Claire Barnes, a technical advisor at Probiotics International Ltd (www.protexin.com). “Actually, every cell in our body requires cholesterol. Any excess cholesterol should be removed from the body through the digestive system. However, if the digestive system is not working effectively, the cholesterol has the potential to be reabsorbed, causing more work for the liver and potentially affecting our heart health. Rather than focusing on reducing cholesterol in the diet, I would recommend improving digestion. A simple way of achieving this is through increasing fibre in the diet. A recent review of scientific studies suggested that increasing fibre in the diet reduces LDL cholesterol levels (often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol), and reduces blood pressure in those at risk of cardiovascular health.1 Taking a high fibre supplement has been shown to increase bowel movements in those with constipation,2 therefore potentially helping to excrete waste products, such as excess cholesterol.”

8
“Hawthorn berries can help support the health of your heart,” says Jamie Lloyd. “They have been shown to help to reduce inflammation and are safe and effective in the treatment of cardiac problems. Hawthorn has been shown to improve contractions in the veins and heart and helps dilate the heart. This then helps increase the blood flow to the heart. It is best used for low heart function and tightness in the chest.”

9
‘One food that may help improve heart health is beetroot,” says Sarah West, a nutritionist with Zebedee’s Lunch Box (www.zebedees.co.uk). “A 2013 meta-analysis3 suggested that beetroot juice can be associated with a reduction in blood pressure, due to its high nitrate content. While nitrate is found in all vegetables, it’s especially abundant in beetroot and leafy greens (which may confer a similar effect).”

10
Good news for chocolate lovers – dark chocolate may help to protect the health of the heart. “Dark chocolate is rich in flavonols, which evidence suggests may thin the blood and help prevent clotting,” explains Sarah West. “Furthermore, the epicatechin found in dark chocolate is thought to help lower blood pressure and improve blood vessel health by boosting nitric oxide levels. A reduction in blood pressure is thought to be beneficial for the avoidance of heart disease and stroke. Staying active, reducing the amount of salt in your diet and maintaining a healthy weight are also key strategies for keeping blood pressure under control and improving overall heart health.”

References

1. Hartley L, May MD, Loveman E, Colquitt JL, Rees K. Dietary fibre for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane database Syst Rev 2016; : CD011472.

2. Cudmore S, Doolan A, Lacey S, Shanahan F. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study: the effects of a synbiotic, Lepicol, in adults with chronic, functional constipation. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2016; : 1–12.

3. Siervo M, Lara J, Ogbonmwan I, Mathers JC. Inorganic nitrate and beetroot juice supplementation reduces blood pressure in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Nutr. 2013 Jun;143(6):818-26.

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