By Cynthia Hill, NTP
Did you know that the health of the heart reflects the health of the entire body? This is why it is so important to address and balance what we as Nutritional Therapists call the foundations of optimal health including diet, digestion, blood sugar balance, fatty acid balance, mineral balance, and hydration.
Each of these foundations contribute to heart health and together achieve optimal health. So what can you do to support these foundations?
Diet – Fuel your heart! Choosing a properly prepared whole foods nutrient dense diet rich in vitamins and minerals is the single most important thing you can do for your heart and your health. Ditch the processed and convenience foods (heart disease is a processed food disease!) and opt for fresh organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meats, pastured eggs, and full fat organic and grass fed unprocessed dairy products (if you tolerate dairy).
Digestion – Improve digestion! Good digestion of proteins is essential to make amino acids like taurine (aids in heart rhythm) and carnitine (lowers blood pressure and cholesterol). Proper stomach PH ensures digestion and absorption of calcium and B vitamins. Good liver/gallbladder function is important to digest healthy fats and fat soluble vitamins. Appropriate bowel flora is required to make vitamins B1, B2, B12, and K2 which help convert our food into fuel and reduce elevated homocysteine levels – a cardiovascular risk. Dietary changes along with addressing food sensitivities and detoxing can heal the gut and promote optimal digestion.
Blood Sugar Balance – Balance blood sugar! High blood glucose levels can make it more difficult for blood and oxygen to move in and out of the heart. Blood sugar imbalances can lead to an overproduction of cortisol leading to insulin resistance which compromises mineral uptake by the cells. High Insulin blocks the PG-1 pathway for prostaglandin anti-inflammatory pathway production (hormone involved in the healing process). Inflammation is a common factor in heart disease. Reduce consumption of processed high carbohydrate and sugar laden foods to help balance blood sugar. B vitamins are especially important in the conversion of glucose into energy for cell utilization and blood sugar regulation. Some good sources of B vitamins include liver, turkey, tuna legumes, and whole grains.
Fatty Acid Balance – Eat heart healthy fats! Did you know that good healthy fats are the preferred fuel of the heart? It’s true! Fatty acids in the right proportion are critical to managing inflammation in the body. Fatty acids are a fundamental part of the cell membranes that make up the tissues of the heart and the coronary arteries. Cold water fatty fish, & small amounts of raw sprouted nuts and seeds are good sources of fatty acids. If you are eating processed food, you are most likely consuming considerable amounts of highly processed (rancid & free radical prone) omega 6 vegetable oils (throwing off the critical omega 3 omega 6 fatty acid proportion/ratio) and artery clogging artificial trans fats (margarines, hydrogenated fats). Choose healthy oils like coconut, avocado and olive oils and animal fats (lard, tallow, poultry fat) from healthy, antibiotic free, grass-fed, free range animals.
Mineral Balance – Increase mineral intake and absorption! Calcium and magnesium are imperative for a healthy heart. Both minerals work together to regulate contracting and relaxing of the heart and muscles. Calcium prompts the contraction and relaxation of the heart. Magnesium is needed for absorption of calcium along with Vitamin D and K2. An appropriate calcium-magnesium ratio is critical or the calcium will not work. Low sodium levels can increase insulin resistance raising heart disease risk. Eat the rainbow for plenty of mineral rich vegetables.
Hydration – Drink plenty of water! Staying hydrated is key to good lymphatic flow and proper blood viscosity. (The thinner the blood, the less it resists flow, moving smoothly throughout the body). Dehydration causes the vascular system to selectively close some of its vessels, leading to hypertension and heart disease. Proteins and enzymes depend on hydration to function properly in the body. Reduce diuretics (coffee, tea, soda, juice) and increase pure water intake.
Maintaining normal weight, cholesterol and blood pressure levels are also paramount in supporting the health of the heart and finally – exercise! The heart muscle loves and benefits from regular movement!
So put a little love in your heart this Valentines Day. Fuel your heart with the nutrients and love it desires and needs to be truly heart healthy!