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February is Love Your Heart Month

February is Love Your Heart MonthHeart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, with 1 in 4 deaths caused by heart disease yearly. The good news?

Heart disease can often be prevented when healthy choices are made to manage health conditions. So don’t be a statistic and get started on your path to a healthy heart which in turn reflects positive effects on the rest of your body.

Ideal heart health consists of several factors:

 

Heart Healthy Behaviors

  • No smoking
  • BMI (Body Mass Index) lower than 25
  • Adequate physical exercise
  • Healthy, balanced diet

Heart Healthy Factors

  • Cholesterol below 200 (untreated)
  • Blood pressure below 120/80 (untreated)
  • Fasting blood sugar below 100

The Importance of B Vitamins and Homocysteine

One of the most interesting new clues to heart disease is homocysteine, a substance we all produce from an amino acid (a building block of protein) in food. The link between this substance and heart disease was discovered in 1969 in a study which found that high levels of homocysteine causes premature hardening of the arteries. But the studies also show that the cause of heart attack or stroke is not because of the homocysteine itself.

The homocysteine that healthy people manufacture is converted into amino acids that do them no harm. This is accomplished by three B vitamins–B-6, B-12, and, probably most important, natural folate. If the conversion does not take place rapidly enough, due to a genetic defect or vitamin deficiency, elevated levels of homocysteine may damage arterial walls and promote the buildup of cholesterol, potentially leading to arterial blockage and a heart attack.

Some easy dietary additions to look at:

  1. Almonds contain a rich source of cholesterol lowering sterols.
  2. Apples can block LDL oxidationandcan also scrub artery walls clean since with the skins, they contain soluble fiber.  
  3. Blueberries contain the antioxidantpterostilbene which can stimulate liver cells to better break down fat and cholesterol.
  4. Fish can lower LDL by 20 percent with two weekly servings of a fatty fish, like salmon which contains omega-3 fatty acids.

But keep in mind: Only a comprehensive program can prevent heart disease: not smoking; eating a diet rich in fresh fruits, whole grains, no or limited processed foods, fresh vegetables, low in sugar and animal fats; and regular exercise. Regular checkups for blood pressure and blood cholesterol are important, too. And don’t forget to take time for self-care and time for fun activities with family and friends. These too go a long way in helping you keep a healthy heart.

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