heart health

How Healthy Is Your Heart?

February marks National Heart Month with a number of events such as National Wear Red Day – Go Red For Women® and other activities sponsored by the American Heart Association. So how do you know if your heart is healthy?

There are several measures for cardiovascular health including blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and heart rate – all of which can provide a glimpse into the strength and health of your heart. Checking these measures on a regular basis is an important method for detecting any potential cardiovascular issues and taking preventative measures to ensure you heart remains in tip-top shape.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease meaning that even if all other aspects of your health are within an appropriate and good range, having high blood pressure alone increases your risk for a cardiovascular event such as heart attack or stroke. According to the American Heart Association, the ideal range for blood pressure is less than 120 for systolic pressure (the top number that indicates when the heart is contracting and pumping blood throughout the body) and less than 80 for diastolic pressure (the bottom number that indicates when the heart is relaxing and filling with blood for the next cycle of circulation).

Total peripheral vascular resistance is a factor in hypertension as increased resistance in the blood vessels away from the heart and central blood vessels forces the heart to exert more pressure in order to circulate blood. Increased length of blood vessels, increased viscosity of the blood, and decreased radius of the blood vessel (often caused by plaque formation), results in greater total peripheral vascular resistance and an elevation of blood pressure.

A number of factors influence blood pressure, including body weight, smoking, salt sensitivity and nutritional status. As such, there are several specific steps that can be taken to avoid or reduce elevate blood pressure:

  • Avoid smoking. Cigarette smoking increases blood pressure by increasing cardiac output and total peripheral vascular resistance.
  • Reduce body weight. Maintaining optimal weight and body mass index is ideal, but even a minor reduction in body weight and body fat can dramatically lower blood pressure by decreasing the total peripheral vascular resistance. Eating a healthy diet that focuses on real foods, high fiber, and low processed foods can help reduce body weight when coupled with an appropriate exercise program.
  • Reduce blood viscosity. Blood viscosity refers to the thickness and stickiness of blood. It is a direct measure of the ability of blood to flow through the vessels. Blood viscosity can be improved by ensuring adequate hydration and exercising. In addition, certain nutrients such as CoQ10 and vitamin E both have the ability to reduce blood viscosity.
  • Balance sodium and potassium. Potassium and sodium work very closely in concert in the body and have some antagonistic effects. Water follows sodium in the body, therefore if sodium intake is high and not balanced by an adequate intake of potassium, blood pressure levels can elevate. In addition, some individuals are predisposed to elevated blood pressure through the influence of salt and as such are deemed as “salt sensitive.” While reducing sodium intake in some individuals may be necessary, increasing potassium intake through foods such as dark leafy greens, beans, potatoes, avocados, and apricots can help balance sodium and potassium and lower blood pressure. Adding magnesium, another nutrient that supports the cells of the heart and one which by some estimates is of sub-optimal status in many Americans, optimizes their function and the balance of electrolytes in your system.
  • Intelligent supplementation. There are several supplements that have a therapeutic effect on blood pressure levels and often include some of the aforementioned nutrients:
    • Metagenics CoQ10 ST-100. This formula combines Vitamin E and CoQ10 in a highly absorbable form to promote healthy blood viscosity.
    • Xymogen N.O.max ER. Arginine alpha-ketoglutarate forms the base of this supplement and acts as a precursor to nitric oxide – a potent vasodilator which increases the radius of blood vessels to may help reduce overall pressure.
    • Thorne Research, Potassium-Magnesium Citrate. A combination of two highly absorbable forms of potassium and magnesium, this supplement blend delivers two critical nutrients for healthy heart function.

Check back in for the next article in this series where we’ll discuss how you can improve and maintain healthy cholesterol levels including which tests you should be having performed to gain the most accurate assessment of your cholesterol status (hint: they may be ones your doc is not currently running)


 


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