Hearth Health Feature
Is the UK's collective heart health in decline in terms of the number of people suffering conditions? If so, what reasons can this be attributed to?
UK’s collective heart health is definitely in decline. As a matter of fact, heart disease is considered as one of the biggest killers in the UK. According to the British Heart Foundation, heart and circulatory disease causes more than a quarter (26 per cent) of all deaths in the UK; that’s nearly 160,000 deaths each year – an average of 435 people each day or one death every three minutes. Around 1.2 million men and 900,000 women in UK are living with chronic angina. Furthermore, 1 million men and nearly 500,000 women are living with the after effects of a heart attack; and 600,000 men and 600,000 women are living with the after effects of a stroke.
This could be attributed to the increase of lifestyle and diet risk factors such as: alcohol use, tobacco use, high blood pressure, high body mass index, high cholesterol, high blood glucose, low fruit and vegetable intake, and physical inactivity.
For example, smoking stimulates the formation of fatty plaques (known as atheroma) leading to the narrowing of arteries and reduced blood flow. Smoking also depresses the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood and increases the bad (LDL) cholesterol. Nicotine and carbon monoxide constrict blood vessels. Nicotine stimulates the bloody to produce adrenaline which speeds up the heart rate and makes the heart work harder, and carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood. Diet rich in saturated fats would also increase LDL and triglyceride levels and lead to development of atheroma and various cardiovascular complications. A lack of exercise could increase the risk of thrombus formation by stimulating platelet aggregation.
Are there any specific groups that can be more susceptible to heart problems?
Anyone with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure is more susceptible to heart problems. This is because chronic blood glucose levels would lead to an increased proportion of small, dense LDL particles which would damage the endothelial barrier of blood vessels. After entering the blood vessel, the LDL particles would oxidase and reduce the production of NO, in the same time stimulating platelet adhesion and aggregation. All this could lead to fatty plaques formation and development of atherosclerosis.
High blood pressure could damage the cells of the arteries' inner lining. This would enable fats from the diet to enter the bloodstream and accumulate in the damaged arteries, leading to damaged and less elastic artery walls. Overtime, the constant pressure of blood moving through a weakened artery can cause a section of its wall to enlarge and form a bulge (aneurysm). An aneurysm can potentially rupture and cause life-threatening internal bleeding. Aneurysms can form in any artery throughout your body, but they're most common in the body's largest artery (aorta).
High blood pressure also forces the heart to work harder than necessary in order to pump blood to the rest of the body. This causes the left ventricle to thicken or stiffen (left ventricular hypertrophy) limiting its ability to pump blood to the body and increasing the risk of heart attack, heart failure and sudden cardiac death.
What are the most common heart related conditions?
The most common heart related conditions are atherosclerosis (a disease of the arteries characterized by the deposition of fatty material on their inner walls), angina (a condition marked by severe pain in the chest, often also spreading to the shoulders, arms, and neck, owing to an inadequate blood supply to the heart), heart attack (a sudden occurrence of coronary thrombosis, resulting in the death of part of a heart muscle) and stroke (a medical condition in which poor blood flow to the brain results in cell death).
What are the most common causes of heart problems?
The most common causes for heart problems are elevated cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, constant stress, smoking, and underlying medical conditions such as diabetes.
Dietary wise, what is protective for the heart?
It is best to consume nitrate reach foods such as carrots, spinach, eggplant, parsley, cauliflower, leeks, turnips, garlic, onion, broccoli and artichoke. Nitrate-rich foods boost nitric oxide (NO) production and NO promote a healthy heart. Moreover, an adequate NO production is the first step in a chain reaction that promotes healthy cardiovascular function, while insufficient NO triggers a cascade of destruction that eventually results in heart disease. NO also promotes healthy dilation of the veins and arteries so blood can move throughout your body. Plus, it prevents red blood cells from sticking together to create dangerous clots and blockages. Consumption of sufficient amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids Omega 3 (EPA/DHA) is also highly recommended. These polyunsaturated fats can be found in animal source (fish) and plant source (flaxseed oil) and are important to lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Also, consuming a plant based diet high in soluble fibre such as green leafy vegetables, spirulina and chlorella is also important to be considered. Soluble fibre can reduce the levels of LDL by preventing re-absorption of bile through the intestine. Instead of being re-absorbed, the bile is excreted through the faeces. To make up for the loss of bile the liver starts producing bile salts by using cholesterol.
And lifestyle wise, what changes should be recommended?
In terms of lifestyle changes, the most important are: staying physically active, maintaining a healthy waist circumference, not smoking, and limiting the alcohol intake. Regular exercise along with a healthy diet may be just as potent—if not more potent—than cholesterol lowering drugs. Exercise can boost NO production and to do that it is best to use a combination of high-intensity interval training, strength training, stretching, and core work. Also, optimizing vitamin D levels, either through appropriate sun exposure or an oral vitamin D3 supplement is equally important. It is also important to regularly walk barefoot to ground with the earth. When we doing that, free electrons are transferred from the earth into our body, and this grounding effect is one of the most potent antioxidant we know of. Managing stress levels daily is also important to prevent oxidative stress in the body. The best way to do that is with meditation practice and breathing techniques.
From a retail perspective, what are the most important recommendations to make in terms of being heart protective?
Omega 3 (EPA & DHA) supplements are highly recommended. This is because EPA is known to reduce levels of triglycerides and LDL and increase levels of HDL cholesterol; while DHA is important for the maintenance of normal function and flexibility of the blood vessels. When looking for an Omega 3 supplement it is important to use supplement that has been produced with molecular distillation process which is important to remove fishy odour and toxic heavy metals such as mercury and furans from the fish oil. CoQ-10 supplementation is also recommended and this is because intake of statins would significantly deplete levels of CoQ-10 in the body. Garlic is also important to supplement with because of its ability to reduce blood pressure and triglyceride levels. It is also important in preventing platelet aggregation and formation of atheromatous plaque. Essential amino acids such as L-Carnitine, L-Arginine and L-Taurine are also important recommendations. L-Carnitine could improve cellular energy metabolism in heart cells. L-Arginine is involved in NO production which is important for vasodilation and to prevent platelet aggregation. L-Taurine is also important to reduce triglyceride levels.
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