February marks National Heart Month and the perfect time to consider what small changes can be made to improve your heart health. Whether you are male or female, young or old, heart disease is affecting more of us year on year. New statistics from the British Heart Foundation reveal that cardiovascular (heart and circulatory) disease causes more than a quarter (27%) of all deaths in the UK, or around 155,000 deaths each year.
That’s an average of one person every three minutes. Dr. David Mantle, medical adviser at nutrition and health expert Pharma Nord (www.pharmanord.co.uk), lists five steps to a healthier heart.
1. Understand the risk factors
The first step in the fight to protect against cardiovascular disease is to ensure you have a good understanding of the risk factors.
Major contributory factors to cardiovascular disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and lack of exercise, smoking, excessive alcohol intake and chronic stress.
Obesity and poor diet also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. In particular, a reliance on convenience foods which may be depleted in essential nutrients, over-consumption of sugar and a high intake of saturated fat, can all have an impact on heart health. Remember to include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, together with several portions per week of oily fish such as mackerel or salmon.
2. Step away from the sugar
Government advisers suggest that we should limit our sugar intake to 5 per cent of daily calories (around 25g per day or six teaspoons) for an adult of normal weight.
It’s important to remember that drinks and ‘savoury’ foods can be high in sugar too. Consuming more of the natural mineral chromium, either by taking a supplement or eating foods with small quantities such as green leafy vegetables and nuts, can help to reduce sugar cravings. This is because chromium works together with insulin to channel sugar out of the bloodstream and into cells for energy production, helping to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
3. Support energy production within your heart
A vitamin-like substance called coenzyme Q10 (www.q10.co.uk) plays an important role in the process supplying all cells with energy. The heart is especially reliant on maintaining tissue levels of Q10 for normal functioning due to its high energy requirement and people with heart disorders such as heart failure invariably have depleted levels of Q10.
Although some is obtained from the normal diet, most Q10 is synthesised within the body. The capacity of the body to produce Q10 naturally decreases from as young as our mid-twenties. Natural levels can also be depleted by intense exercise, certain medicines and chronic illness. As a result, many people choose to take a supplement.
In a recent clinical study involving 420 people with heart failure, there were 43 per cent fewer deaths from heart-related conditions in the group taking Pharma Nord’s Bio-Quinone Active Q10. Q10 has also been found to help prevent heart disease among the elderly population.
4. Consider your cholesterol
People at risk of cardiovascular disease are advised to reduce their blood cholesterol levels, which can be done through lifestyle and dietary changes. In particular, increase your dietary intake of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as olive, rapeseed or sunflower oils or spreads, together with dietary fibre, for example from oats and pulses. Q10 has also been shown to reduce LDL-cholesterol blood levels via a direct effect on the genes responsible for its synthesis in the body.
5. Combat nutritional deficiencies
Other key nutrients of importance to normal cardiovascular function include vitamin K, vitamin D, magnesium and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (from fish oil). People with cardiovascular disorders are commonly deficient in these nutrients. Supplementation with fish oil has been shown to have beneficial effects on blood triglyceride levels, high blood pressure and risk of blood clotting, as well as reducing the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiac arrhythmias.