Lets Get Heart Smart: Risk Factors of Heart Related Illness
by Mary Howard, RN
There is new evidence that shows dietary intake of fat and cholesterol, such as fat meat and eggs, may not be the culprit to heart related illness. Carbohydrates and Homocysteine levels may be some of the important culprits. We’ll also look at some other factor to lower your risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure.
Recently, we have heard about these high protein, carbohydrate sparing diets and their claims to decrease your risk of heart disease. Any time you eliminate any one food group (in this case carbohydrates) you are setting yourself up for a whole new set of problems. There may be some truth in watching your carbohydrate intake though. What their evidence shows is that when you consume a large amount of carbohydrates, whether it is sweets or starches, it causes your body to produce large amounts of insulin.
Insulin is vital to life in that it regulates blood sugar, controls the storage of fat, regulates the liver’s production of cholesterol, functions as a growth hormone, is important in appetite control, drives the kidneys to retain fluid and much more. It is absolutely essential to life, but too much of a good thing can sometimes cause problems. Too much insulin can be very caustic to the blood vessels, causing hardening of the vessels, decreased strength of the vessels leading to high blood pressure, stroke and plaque build up. Insulin also causes fat storage and cholesterol production.
As we age our insulin receptors become less sensitive to insulin so the body over-produces insulin to meet what it thinks is the need. By decreasing your intake of concentrated sweets, like sugar sweetened food and not overeating starches like breads, pasta and potatoes you may keep your body from the overproduction of insulin. If you think your insulin level could be a problem for you, next time you have blood drawn at your doctor’s office, ask if you can have a blood insulin level drawn, too.
Another important heart related factor my be control of Homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid that is attached to LDL fats (bad cholesterol). Elevated levels of Homocysteine have been linked to the production of cholesterol. By increasing your dietary intake of B-12, B-6 and Folic acid, you can decrease the production of this amino acid, thus decreasing your risk of heart disease. Sources of these important vitamins, B-12, B-6 and Folic acid are green leafy vegetables, cabbage/cauliflower family, and meats.
Part of the problem with controlling the production of Homocysteine is that as the body ages it has a decreased ability to absorb these 3 B-Vitamins from foods. By taking these 3 B-Vitamin, B-12, B-6 and Folic Acid, in a supplement called a Sublingual form (Sublingual means to “put under the tongue”) they are taken into the blood stream instead of through the stomach. This way, the digestive system is bypassed and the vitamins go directly to the blood where they can work to decrease Homocysteine levels. So, when you look for a supplement for these 3 B-Vitamins try to find one that is for “Sublingual” use. They may be hard to find, but they are out there.
Fiber in your diet can be an important factor in decreasing your risk of arteriosclerosis (plaque in the arteries) and heart disease. Fiber makes a lining on the inside of the colon. The body uses cholesterol for the production of Bile in the liver, and then the bile is excreted through the colon. If this fiber lining in the colon is intact, the bile will not be reabsorbed by the body, thus the body has no other choice but to produce more bile causing more use of the your body’s cholesterol stores.
Foods that are high in fiber are fresh vegetables, fruit and bran. Dietary fiber can also be obtained through the use of a fiber supplement. It is important to drink plenty of water (8 or more glasses a day) while you are taking a fiber supplement. Fiber also increases the transit time of food in your body causing you to absorb less fat and toxins from the food you eat.
Some other risk factors for the heart that you can control are:
- Regular exercise and getting your heart rate up is important to keep your heart strong and to clean your blood vessels out.
- Decreasing stress in your life may also help in decreasing your risk of heart related illness.
- Avoid putting unhealthy toxins in your body like smoking. Smoking causes hardening of your blood vessels, decreased oxygen in your blood and the nicotine is a stimulant causing constriction of blood vessels.
- Controlling weight helps decrease risk of heart disease especially for those that gain their weight on the torso of their body. Fat deposits around the heart can cause increased workload for the heart.
There really are some things you can do to decrease your risk of heart disease. By taking some supplements, eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong foods you can considerable decrease your risks of heart related illness. By eating food as they are produced from the soil and eating other foods “in Moderation,” you will be taking the least amount of risk to your heart.