Monday, January 25, 2016

How to Love Your Heart

Hearts are everywhere! Even before we flipped the calendar page to February, the shelves in retail stores were stocked with heart-themed gifts and cards that declared our love in fancy words and pretty pictures. Boxes of questionably flavored crème-filled chocolates were stacked strategically though out the store under signs reminding us that “Valentine’s Day is February 14.” 

While Valentine’s Day started as a religious holiday – in fact some denominations still celebrate the feast of St. Valentine – it has evolved into a secular holiday. Heart-shaped symbols, winged baby cupids, and bouquets of roses proclaiming romantic love are its distinguishing characteristics.

With all the decorative hearts and Valentine cards, it could be easy to miss that February is also the American Heart Association’s annual campaign to inform the public about the importance of maintaining a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. With 1 in 4 deaths in America being attributed to heart disease annually, it’s clear that we as a nation have an opportunity for better cardiovascular health. A heart-healthy lifestyle includes wise dietary choices, nutritional supplements, and regular exercise. From an integrative approach, having a healthy heart not only includes care for the physical heart, it also includes care for the intellectual heart and the spiritual heart! Here are some ways we can love our hearts – body, mind, and spirit – better.

The Physical Heart
The physical heart is a muscular organ that is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body via the circulatory system. The blood travels through the body delivering oxygen and other nutrients to cells for essential metabolic function. If the heart fails to pump, eventually all metabolic function will cease. Heart failure is typically the result of heart disease.

Heart disease occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed due to a buildup of plaque on the arteries’ inner walls. Plaque is the accumulation of fat, cholesterol, and other substances. As plaque continues to build up in the arteries, blood flow to the heart is reduced. High cholesterol is a marker for heart disease. Although the liver makes enough cholesterol for bodily function, more is introduced through dietary selections making plaques issues worse. Your doctor can order tests on cholesterol and triglycerides to check this marker for heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women; 50 percent of men and 64 percent of women who die suddenly of heart disease show no previous symptoms of the disease. As frightening as these statistics may be, heart disease can be avoided by making healthy lifestyle choices. The National Institutes for Health has defined the “Big Four” habits that help to prevent heart disease: getting regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking, and eating a healthy diet.

Another way to reduce risk for heart disease is to manage health conditions like high blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 67 million Americans have high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are 4 times more likely to die from a stroke and 3 times more likely to die from heart disease, compared to those with normal blood pressure.

High blood pressure often shows no signs or symptoms, which is why checking blood pressure regularly is important. Blood pressure screenings are easily available in most doctor's offices and drugstores and can be checked at home using a home blood pressure monitor.

Another significant risk factor for heart disease is diabetes. Diabetics have issues in creating insulin which is the hormone that helps move glucose into the cells. When someone is insulin resistant or doesn’t make enough insulin, glucose accumulates in the blood and adds to blood flow issues involving plaque buildup. Individuals who are diabetic and have suffered a cardiac event may benefit from chelation therapy; the Trial to Access Chelation Therapy study which was funded by the National Institutes for Health suggests that chelation therapy may significantly reduce a recurrent cardiac event. Consult with an integrative practitioner for more information and to evaluate personal benefits of chelation.

Check the suggestions in the NIH’s THE BIG FOUR for ways to reduce your risk for heart disease and check with your doctor for a complete health screening so that your physical heart is in top notch condition!