Why is heart disease the number one killer of the Western world? Because we Westerners love to eat fats that are solid at room temperature. Butter, marbled steak, cheese, lard. Lard? It’s in most commercially available baked goods. “Heart disease” covers a lot of territory: high blood pressure (more technically know as hypertension), congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease, arrhythmias, angina and myocardial infarctions. Many of these are due to a combination of high blood pressure and so-called hardening of the arteries. “Hardening of the arteries actually means narrowing of the space inside the arteries. Our arteries are responsible for carrying freshly oxygenated blood out of the heart, into the tissues. So, less blood flow means less oxygen to our hands, feet, internal organs, and ultimately starving the brain. The culprits causing the stenosis, meaning narrowing of the vessels, are basically “bad” cholesterol (low density lipoproteins and very LDL’s) and the cellular debris of inflammatory reactions. For you science whizzes, high blood pressure is a function of “cardiac output” (the pliability of the heart muscle plus actual blood volume) multiplied by “peripheral vascular resistance”, which refers to the viscosity of the blood and the openess of the arteries.
In 1990, 200,000 coronary bypass surgeries were performed in the United States (at about $20K a pop). Even though it has been well documented for over ten years that by-pass surgery is NOT AT ALL useful in reducing mortality. It does, however, reduce the pain of angina (“feels like an elephant stepping on my chest”) for those unwilling to change their lifestyle and dietary habits.
The best approach to maintaining a healthy heart is the preventive approach. You all know the rap — adequate of aerobic exercise; a low- but-good-quality fat, high fiber diet; time with friends you love and who love you; plenty of rest and play. In general, a cardiac emergency is NOT something to be treated at home, with herbs or juices or anything else. Please call 911 if you suspect a “heart attack.” Presenting symptoms may be faintness, profuse perspiration, pain in the chest and left arm, and extreme anxiety.
Beside these emergency caveats, certain non-correctable factors which should put these people on a greater alert are having diabetes (most diabetics die of heart disease), a strong family history of heart problems, being male, and being over 65 years old. Now for the good news: There are a number of ways to nutritionally prolong the health of your heart.
- Avoid caffeine, which exacerbate cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heart beat).
- Lose those extra 5, 10 or 50 pounds. Obesity is definitely a risk factor. Avoid excess salt, refined carbohydrates, sugar and saturated fats.
- Anybody out there still smoking? Quit it today. Smokers have a 4-13 times greater risk of cardiovascular disease than non-smokers.
- Consider supplementation with Coenzyme Q10, which is similar in structure to Vitamin K and functions in the tissues by passing electrons along in the cellular respiration chain. In other words, Co- Q10 is essential for ensuring the continuous availability of energy to all tissues and organs. Consult your physician.
- The Allium family (garlic and onion) reduce cholesterol by inhibiting its synthesis, thus supplementation (spike those fresh juices!) may prevent or even reverse hardening of the arteries. Both onions and garlic inhibit platelet aggregation, reducing the possibility of blood clots (emboli).
- Alfalfa is rich in saponins (a part of plants that make “soap” and that are anti-septic, anti-inflammatory and also, paradoxically, somewhat irritating, causing a gathering up of cellular debris to be excreted, mainly via the lungs). The saponins are capable of binding to cholesterol and bile salts in the gut to prevent absorption. So throw some alfalfa sprouts, or better yet alfalfa seed powder, into your mid-afternoon pick-me-up drink.
- Get plenty of Potassium (“K”) which normalizes the electrical impulses in the heart muscle and Magnesium (“Mg”) which helps the heart muscle hold onto Potassium. Dark leafy greens (beet greens, collard greens, swiss chard, spinach) and sea vegetables (especially dulse and kelp) are excellent sources of both electrolytes (minerals required for cellular homeostasis, or balance).
- Pizzorno J, Murray M. A Textbook of Natural Medicine. John Bastyr Publications, Seattle WA 1989
- Werbach, MR. Nutritional Influences on Illness. Keats Publishing, New Canaan, CT 1988