FOOD is MEDICINE: heart disease

Heart disease is something that we’ve all heard of. But what exactly is it? What happens in your body that leads to heart disease? Today we will try to tackle these questions and a whole lot more.

Heart disease defined

When asked to describe heart disease, most of us would mention plaque buildup in arteries, “bad cholesterol,” and maybe high blood pressure. While some of these factors are true, they aren’t the whole story.

To understand more about heart disease, it’s important to know a few things about your blood. Blood is carried throughout the entire body in arteries and vessels. The cells that line these arteries and vessels are called endothelial cells. It’s the health of these cells that determines your overall cardiovascular health.

Oxidative stress produces free radicals and these free radicals can damage our tissues, specifically the endothelial cells lining our arteries and vessels. Oxidative stress can be caused by many different things, especially:

  • high sugar/refined carbohydrate diet
  • too little or too much exercise
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • smoking
  • chronic stress
  • exposure to toxins
  • lack of sleep

This damage to the cells in our arteries and vessels can cause Plaque to build up. Plaque can cause a “hardening” of the arteries and vessels, which causes a bottleneck- otherwise known as atherosclerosis.

This thinning and hardening action prevents the heart from pushing the blood as efficiently to the tissues throughout the body. When this happens organs [like your kidneys] start to think, “Hey! Don’t forget about me!!”, and demand more blood sent their way. This makes your heart pump harder, resulting in high blood pressure and a tired ticker. All of this can escalate quickly and eventually lead to stroke or heart attack.

Risk factors

  1. Smoking
  2. Chronic stress
  3. Sedentary lifestyle
  4. Obesity
  5. Hypertension
  6. Increased fat content in the blood
  7. Diabetes

Heart disease is not the same for women and men. here’s why…

Women tend to be heart protected until they are postmenopausal. Typically this means that most women will develop heart disease at a later age than men. However, today’s rise in obesity [think high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar] and lifestyle choices [like smoking] can greatly increase the risk for heart disease at a much earlier age. The truth is: age and gender are no longer key indicators of heart disease. Statistics from an article in Circulation, an American Heart Association Journal, tells us that deaths from heart disease in women 35-44 years old increased annually by 1.3% from 1992 to 2002 and continues to increase. Prevention is key. Which is why it is never too late or too early to start creating a lifestyle that promotes heart health.

Symptoms of heart disease may present differently in women. here’s what you need to know:

A new study published in Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine took data from 1,000 young patients who were hospitalized for acute coronary syndrome. The study found that one in 5 women, ages 55 and younger, did not experience chest pain with their heart attack. In this same study, women were less likely to experience chest pain from a heart attack than men. The mechanism behind this phenomena is still unclear.

The most common symptoms women experience during a heart attack:

  1. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  2. Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
  3. Other symptoms like: breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness

The most powerful drug you will ever take: food

That’s right, the most powerful medicine you’ll ever take to protect your heart and your health is FOOD! While there are LOTS of wonderful food choices out there that can be heart protective, this week we to focus on cruciferous vegetables. The anti-inflammatory nature of cruciferous vegetables have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease. Brassicas [broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and you guessed it: Brussels sprouts] are all sulfur-rich vegetables. We love sulfur-rich veggies because sulfur is required for the synthesis of glutathione, one of our premier endogenous antioxidants. This means they not only have the ability to reduce oxidative stress but they also regulate cycles that control blood pressure and inflammation. Simply put, these veggies are wonderful little heart protectors, which should be savored often! If you’re interested in the many other many benefits of Brussels sprouts, or simply how to select and store them, check out our Simply Essential:Brussels Sprouts blog! OR if you’d like to learn more ways to keep your heart healthy our Nutrition Rx:Heart Health blog is for you!


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