The heart is vital for two reasons: for one thing, it pumps blood to every organ and cell of the body. Blood from the heart carries nutrients and oxygen to all cells to sustain their lives. It also carries toxins away from cells to be eliminated from the body. So without a heart, there is no life. And without a properly functioning heart, every organ and cell of the body suffers.
The second reason why heart health is so important is due to cardiovascular diseases, i.e., the diseases of the heart and the blood vessels. These diseases are now the number one killers in our society. They outweigh cancer, diabetes or any other medical condition. The most well-known consequences of cardiovascular diseases are heart attacks and strokes. But basically every organ of the body can suffer. They can lead to problems with: the kidneys, eyesight, walking, severe pains in the legs, and problems in the aorta (the biggest artery in the body).
Heart health is also very important because the arteries that supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients are very small. Their diameter is only a millimeter or so. Because they are so small, they can easily become clogged with cholesterol fatty plaques. Once the artery is completely or almost completely clogged, the part of the heart supplied by that artery dies. That’s when a heart attack occurs. The same applies to the brain and the arteries supplying the brain. When they become clogged, a stroke occurs.
WHY ARTERIES CLOG
So what causes these arteries to clog up with junk like cholesterol, trans fats, and dead cell debris? The main culprit is a poor diet. The best way to explain what a poor diet is it to explain what a good diet is. A good diet has lean protein sources like fish and poultry (preferably organic, antibiotic and hormone free), lots of vegetables (especially the deep green leafy ones), fish oils and lots of healthy plant oils (like olive oil, flax oil, borage oil, argan oil, hemp oil and coconut oil). This diet also contains some (but not too many) whole-wheat products. It’s basically the Mediterranean diet, minus the pasta, white breads and tons of cheese. For beverages, the best choices are clean spring water, and green & black tea.
This ideal diet does not contain fast and processed foods, fried foods, excessive animal fats from beef and pork, white flour products, processed sugars, pop drinks, high sugar fruit juices, candy, processed cheese, and excessive sweets. All these things clog up the arteries of the heart. But there is nothing wrong with having some ice cream or some cake or a pizza once in a while, as long as you have a regularly healthy diet and the good diet elements described above are your staples.
The two other major killers of the heart are nicotine and excessive alcohol. Street drugs other than cannabis are also in this category, as are many prescription drugs (so consult with your doctor, especially if you have a heart condition). Alcohol in excess (i.e., more than one drink a day) harms and dilates the heart. Eventually, the heart becomes like a balloon and loses its capability to pump blood. Nicotine, on the other hand, accelerates the clogging of arteries. Being overweight and eating too much sugar also has this effect. Both can lead to diabetes, which actually means “too much sugar in the blood.” This leads to damage to the inner lining of the arteries, which accelerates clogging (or in medical terms, atherosclerosis).
WORKING IT OUT
Another factor to consider is exercise — especially cardiovascular exercise. Simply put, exercise helps your heart, and a lack of it harms your heart. Good cardiovascular exercise is performing something that makes you breathe deeply and sweat at least three times per week for 20 minutes. There are two reasons why this is good. First, the heart is a muscle that is constantly working. When we perform aerobic exercise, it pumps faster and harder. Just like any muscle reacts to regular exercise, so too does the heart by growing stronger and more muscular. This makes the heart more efficient at its job. The second reason why aerobic exercise is good is because it makes blood flow faster. This benefits blood vessels in that the fast flowing blood can literally help clean out any junk accumulated in the arteries. Think of it like a garden hose: if there are leaves inside that are blocking the flow of water, we can increase the flow to help push out the leaves and make the flow more efficient. A more efficient flow in our arteries is good news for our hearts and every other organ in our bodies.
But this is not the end of the story. If you are really serious about heart health but you like to indulge in some things that may be harmful to the heart (listed above), or you don’t always have the time to exercise three times a week, you can compensate to some degree with supplements —especially supplements that are good for the heart. The best examples are antioxidants, fish oils and healthy plant oils, co-enzyme Q10 and multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplements. Antioxidants prevent the buildup of cholesterol plaques that clog arteries to the heart (and other organs as well). Great examples are green tea and green tea extract, resveratrol (from red wine in moderation but better as a supplement), grape seed extract, and pretty much any vegetable. The fish oils (i.e., the Omega 3 fatty acids called EPA and DHA) are anti-inflammatory. Therefore, they also help prevent clogging. That’s because atherosclerosis is not just the build up of fats and cholesterol, but also inflammation. The healthy plant oils mentioned above also contain vital fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory in nature. They are also an excellent energy source for the heart, as the heart prefers them to anything else. Finally, co-enzyme Q10 is absolutely essential for energy production in order to keep the heart in tiptop shape.
Thank you and see you next time.