Is it a coincidence that Valentine’s Day and National Heart Month both fall in February? Perhaps, but there’s certainly a connection here — especially since the winter season can be hard on the heart. While the heart is an amazing organ, beating non-stop for decades, it does have performance limits. And in today’s day and age, it definitely needs more love. Fortunately, even small lifestyle changes can make a big difference in the way we care for our hearts.
Inflammation And Heart Health
We don’t often think of food as a type of drug, but diet can have a profound impact on health, good or bad. Perhaps the most important way any of us can love our hearts is by eating anti-inflammatory foods and eliminating foods that fuel inflammation.
Even if you are relatively fit, you should stay away from processed foods and drastically limit your intake of inflammation-fueling sugar and transfats. In particular, processed, fried and over-grilled foods are high in “AGEs” — Advanced Glycation End-products (glycotoxins), substances that promote oxidation and inflammation. As the AGE acronym suggests, these compounds promote premature aging and disease, particularly when you consume them in excess.
One study, conducted by researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, outlined how dietary changes can have a profound impact on inflammation and health. Two groups were assigned separate diets. One ate a normal Western diet, high in glycotoxins. The other was asked to poach, stew or steam their meals — cooking processes that produce fewer glycotoxins. After four months, the latter group showed dramatic reductions in inflammatory markers and had other indications of improved cardiovascular health. In addition, a protein that helps clear these toxic compounds increased, restoring the body’s normal protective mechanisms.
These results are no surprise. Making good food choices can represent a one-two punch against inflammation. First, we need to reduce the amount of processed and overcooked foods we eat. But we should also be mindful of what we’re eating: Meals should emphasize high quality protein. They should also include inflammation-busting omega-3 fatty acids found in raw nuts and seeds like flax, chia and walnuts as well as cold water fish. In addition, you should eat sprouted whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables, particularly the green leafy variety. These foods are high in anti-inflammatory compounds that help counteract the effects of glycotoxins, free radicals and inflammatory proteins.
Eat more phytonutrients from plant foods. Richly colored produce like tomatoes, squash, yams, peppers, blueberries and strawberries are excellent sources. We also recommend cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale and cauliflower. After you eat cruciferous vegetables, they offer the body a phytonutrient compound known as DIM (3,3’- diindolylmethane). DIM has been found to control inflammation, balance hormones, promote detoxification and combat cancer.
On the other side of the ledger, we should all be more active rather than sedentary. Exercise is like a magic bullet for heart health. In addition to conditioning the cardiovascular system and burning calories, activity reduces levels of cortisol, the hormone associated with stress. Remember, exercise does not have to be painful. Brisk walking, 30 minutes a day, can do wonders.
Detoxify Your Inflammation
Another way we can help our hearts is by supplementing wisely. One of our top recommendations gaining the attention of researchers world-wide is modified citrus pectin (MCP). You are already familiar with citrus pectin, you handle it every time you peel an orange. While citrus pectin offers known health benefits, it doesn’t metabolize well. The molecules are simply too big to absorb into the circulation from the digestive tract. MCP solves that problem by breaking up those large molecules and allowing them to cross into the bloodstream and move freely to different parts of the body.
Once inside the body, MCP supports heart health by binding to a protein called galectin-3, now a well-known culprit in heart disease. Galectin-3 has been associated with inflammation and scarring in blood vessels and major organs. In fact, research published by a journal of the American Heart Association, has shown that galectin-3 works with the hormone aldosterone to cause inflammation and actually remodel blood vessels. The protein’s relationship to heart disease has become so well known, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a galectin-3 blood test to screen for cardiovascular disease. MCP is also shown in clinical studies to remove heavy metals from the body, which are another source of chronic inflammation and threat to overall health.
Probiotics: Friends For Your Heart
Beneficial bacteria are also impressing researchers who are evaluating the potential of these microorganisms to control cardiovascular disease. Probiotics support numerous areas of health by reducing inflammation, balancing cholesterol, supporting immunity and performing countless other functions related to vitamin and nutrient production and detoxification. In fact, we are only just beginning to understand the many roles they play in human, animal, and environmental health. You can get them from cultured foods such as sauerkraut, miso, yogurt and kiefer, as well as high quality probiotic supplements.
The Winter Paradox
Statistics show that more people die of heart attacks during December, January and February. Oddly enough, this seems to have little to do with cold weather. A recent study looked at cardiovascular deaths in a variety of climates and found the increase happened in southern as well as northerly regions. Scientists aren’t entirely sure what the relationship is — it may have something to do with reduced immunity, holiday stress or even seasonal depression. However, regardless of the root cause, it’s just one more reason to look after our hearts.