Be Heart Healthy
by Ken Babal, C.N.
One of the best kept secrets is that we don’t have to have heart attacks. The biggest killer of Americans is completely preventable. But we’re not going to end this epidemic with drugs, stents and bypass operations because they don’t address the cause. It’s going to take strong dietary measures.
Government guidelines stress reducing saturated fat (fatty meats and whole milk products) and increasing vegetable and fruit intake, mainly for their ﬁber and antioxidant content. Fiber promotes excretion of toxic substances and helps to lower cholesterol while antioxidants protect against free radicals and artery damage. Also, government has placed a limit of no more than 10 percent of daily calories coming from added sugars. Too much sugar contributes to obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and increases your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
It’s important to note that it’s not just about what we exclude from our diet, but also what we include. Surveys show that most people subsist on the same ten foods day in and day out. Many of them are not consistently associated with reduced disease risk. For example, only about 25 percent of vegetables consumed are classiﬁed as being rich in protective phytochemicals. Fruits that are most closely associated with reduced disease risk make up only about half of our fruit intake. Some vegetables and fruits closely associated with reduced disease risk are cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliﬂower, Brussels sprouts), leafy greens, berries, cherries, grapes, pomegranate, avocado, artichoke, mushroom, yam and olive.
Polymeal for Reducing Heart Disease Risk
In 2003, an article in The British Medical Journal proposed the idea of a drug cocktail for preventing cardiovascular disease. The “polypill” would consist of a statin drug to reduce cholesterol plus a diuretic, beta blocker and ACE inhibitor to reduce blood pressure, and folic acid and aspirin for additional beneﬁts.
In response to the polypill concept, an article was published in the same medical journal a year later on a “polymeal.” The meal, designed by a team of Dutch researchers, was based on the ability of each of its ingredients to reduce heart disease risk. Effects were calculated from data obtained from the famous Framingham Heart Study and its offshoot studies. According to calculations, the polymeal would reduce cardiovascular events by 76 percent and increase total life expectancy of men by 6.6 years and that of women by 4.8 years. The polymeal consists of wine (in moderation), ﬁsh (four times per week), dark chocolate, fruits, vegetables, almonds and garlic.
Traditional Mediterranean Diet
The polymeal has similarities to the traditional Mediterranean diet, the most scientiﬁcally documented diet in the world. The Mediterranean diet is a diet that was eaten by people living in southern Italy and the Greek island of Crete in the 1960s. At that time, the population had a low rate of chronic disease and enjoyed the highest life expectancy of all countries reporting to the World Health Organization. Crete reported an especially low rate of heart disease, which was 90 percent lower than that of the United States.
The diet was based on vegetables, fruits, potatoes, breads and grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Modest amounts of cheese and yogurt were consumed daily, and up to four eggs per week. Fish and poultry were consumed several times a week, but red meat only a few times per month. Olive oil was the principal source of fat, and wine was enjoyed in moderation. Today, the Mediterranean diet is still saving lives and has proven to be more effective for heart patients than any drug, lifestyle program or other diet.
High Priority Supplements
When people think of vitamin K, most think of healthy blood clotting. Recently, additional beneﬁts beyond coagulation were discovered about vitamin K in regard to bone and cardiovascular health. Research shows that vitamin K in the form of MK7 is an important cofactor in calcium metabolism in that it helps direct calcium into bones where it belongs rather than soft tissue. Calciﬁcation is not desirable in soft tissues as it can contribute to problems like kidney stone formation, bone spurs and artery plaque. Thus, MK7 supports both bone building and arterial ﬂexibility.
A new study shows that MK7 may actually reverse calciﬁcation of blood vessels in people with kidney disease. Dialysis patients given MK7 for four weeks showed large reductions in calcium deposits in their blood vessels. The patients were chosen since calcium deposits in the blood vessels is a major mortality risk factor in advanced kidney disease. Another study concluded that vitamin K deﬁciency is as big a risk factor for developing heart disease as smoking.
CoQ-10 is an antioxidant present in the mitochondria of all cells where it participates in the production of aerobic energy (using oxygen). The body manufacturers CoQ-10, but it declines by as much as 80 percent in the course of normal aging. It is critical for heart function because the heart consumes so much energy. Not surprising, CoQ-10 levels are low in patients with heart disease. Ironically, statins used to treat high cholesterol block the body’s synthesis of CoQ-10. The Association of the European Society of Cardiology declared in 2003 that CoQ-10 is the ﬁrst “drug” known to improve heart failure mortality in over a decade.
Increasing our intake of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly from ﬁsh and ﬁsh oil, could have a major impact on heart attack risk. One mechanism by which fatty acids EPA/DHA may lower the risk of heart disease is inﬂammation control. Evidence strongly supports the idea that chronic low-grade inﬂammation in our blood vessels may be a bigger threat than one’s cholesterol level. Also, ﬁsh oils are very effective in reducing triglycerides, a type of blood fat and risk factor for heart disease. Recently, the FDA granted approval of a ﬁsh oil, allowing it to be prescribed as a treatment for high triglycerides.
Heart disease is a food-borne illness. It’s estimated that if all forms of cardiovascular disease were eliminated, life expectancy would rise by about seven years. Though we’ve eaten ourselves into a problem, we can eat our way out of it.