February is American Heart Month, which means it’s a great time to evaluate your heart health. After all, you only get one body, and your heart is the powerhouse that keeps everything else going. Since heart disease is the #1 killer in America, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to your body, and help it stay healthy.
The great thing is that the risk factors for heart disease can be managed naturally! Millions of people are on medications for conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, but lifestyle changes should always, always come first. Prescription meds come with a barrage of side effects, from nausea and headaches to liver damage, tissue swelling, and even deadly bleeding. Diet and exercise changes are different. They help your body naturally, without the downsides of chemical medications, and can be just as impactful for some people.
I’ve paired up some high risk conditions with the diet changes that alleviate symptoms. Almost 50% of Americans have one or more risk factors for heart disease, so if you fall into one of these categories, it might be time to make a change:
High Cholesterol: To get rid of “bad cholesterol”, also known as LDL cholesterol, avoid trans and saturated fats. Instead, opt for soluble fiber, like that in fruits and veggies. These, along with nuts and legumes that contain sterols and stanols, help reduce cholesterol absorption, keeping your arteries and veins clear.
Prediabetes: Also called insulin resistance, this is basically your body’s alert system for type II diabetes. And while diabetes can’t be cured, insulin resistance can be reversed! The first step is to get rid of all your processed, fatty and canned foods. These can cause uncontrolled spikes in blood sugar that bring you closer to diabetes. You can replace these with naturally low-sugar foods using a great tool called the glycemic index. Since it ranks foods based on their impact on blood sugar, choosing foods on the low end of the index will keep you away from spikes and help treat insulin resistance.
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): High blood pressure describes a condition in which your arteries are narrowing and/or hardening. With less space to fit through, blood pushes harder, causing an increase in pressure which puts extra stress on your heart. For some people, how this works seems unconnected to diet, which is why they reach for prescriptions first. But it turns out, what you eat is incredibly important when it comes to blood pressure!
One research project by the Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute explored the connection directly. Trough their careful observations, they developed a set of guidelines called the DASH diet. It works by eliminating trans and saturated fats, and reducing sodium intake while also encouraging dieters to eat plenty of fiber, potassium, magnesium, and protein. Using the DASH diet protocol, some patients saw reduced blood pressure in just 2 weeks! It brings new meaning to the phrase “you are what you eat.”
Of course it’s also essential to balance these changes with exercise! Just 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week can help lower cholesterol, relieve high blood pressure and help you lose weight associated with type II diabetes. Plus, as it helps relieve symptoms, exercise makes your heart stronger, so if anything does happen, your cardiac system is ready to fight!
You don’t have to expose yourself to dangerous drugs to have a healthy heart, but do remember to speak with your doctor before abruptly stopping medication. Stopping without monitoring could lead to even more side effects. Then, with a few lifestyle changes, you can take control of your health and reduce your risk, naturally!