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How to Naturally Promote Heart Health

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

Heart health is a significant topic for me. After I had covid in September 2021, my overall health deteriorated. I had an auto-immune disease and was lucky to live through nearly a month of severe illness, followed by long-haul covid.

My long-haul covid symptoms included fatigue, irregular menstrual cycles, cognitive impairment, respiratory decline, and heart health deterioration. Not to mention, heart disease runs in my family, and I have a 79% increased likelihood of hypertension, according to my genetic results. I wrote this original article pre-covid but dug even deeper while struggling with long-haul covid.


Pre-covid, I was pretty healthy despite a long list of illnesses I had overcome. My lifestyle was filled with healthier choices influencing my health. I genuinely believe this affected my ability to survive covid and manage my dreadful symptoms at home, naturally. Learn more about my experience with covid here.


For nearly a year after covid, my Apple Watch recorded my resting heart rate as low as 40 BPM with a heart variable in the teens. So I made some changes and will share them with you today.


What Is Heart Disease?

How to Naturally Promote Heart Health

Herbs to Promote Heart Health

 

What Is Heart Disease?

The heart beats about 2.5 billion times in the average lifetime and pushes millions of gallons of blood to every body part. As the heart moves blood throughout the body, it carries oxygen, fuel, hormones, and other essential compounds for everyday living (1).


When the heart stops working correctly, we often hear the diagnosis of heart disease. Heart disease usually refers to several heart conditions associated with their own set of symptoms (2).


Types of Heart Disease:

  • Coronary artery disease

  • Arrhythmia

  • Congenital heart defect

  • Heart valve disease

  • A disease of the heart muscle

  • Heart infection

Sometimes the blood supply that normally nourishes the heart with oxygen is cut off, and the heart muscle begins to die; this is called a heart attack (3). The most common cause of a heart attack is plaque buildup in the arteries, also known as atherosclerosis, preventing blood from reaching the heart muscle. Heart attacks can also be caused by blood clots or torn blood vessels and, less commonly, from a blood vessel spasm (4).


"It's estimated that every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack (5)."

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for one death every 36 seconds (6). Approximately 659,000 people die annually from heart disease in the United States (7).


Causes of Heart Disease (8):

  • Coronary artery disease

  • Diabetes

  • Drug abuse

  • Excessive use of alcohol or caffeine

  • Heart defects you're born with (congenital heart defects)

  • High blood pressure

  • Smoking

  • Some over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, dietary supplements

  • Stress

  • Valvular heart disease

Risk Factors For Heart Disease (9):

  • Advancing age, especially those 65 or older. While heart attacks can strike people of both sexes in old age, women are at greater risk of dying.

  • Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women.

  • Those with a parent with heart disease are more likely to develop heart disease.

  • African-Americans have higher blood pressure and heart disease risk than Caucasians. Heart disease risk is also heightened among Mexican-Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians, and some Asian-Americans–partly due to familial lifestyles and cuisines.

One similarity between nearly all of these is the ability to prevent them. Of course, heart disease can be caused by genetic and lifestyle factors, but our genetics load the gun while our lifestyle choices pull the trigger.


So what can we do to prevent these types of things from happening? Start by knowing your numbers!


Know Your Numbers

Knowing your numbers means knowing and understanding your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. These are known as metabolic factors. Studies have observed metabolic factors of cardiovascular disease, including diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia (low high‐density lipoprotein cholesterol or high triglyceride levels), and hypercholesterolemia (high total or low‐density lipoprotein cholesterol) (10).


Blood Pressure

Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers-systolic blood pressure (the first number) and diastolic blood pressure (the second number). Systolic blood pressure indicates how much pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls when the heart beats. Diastolic blood pressure indicates how much pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls while the heart rests between beats. Standard blood pressure numbers of less than 120/80 mm Hg are considered within the normal range. If your results fall into this category, stick with heart-healthy habits like following a balanced diet and regular exercise (11).


Blood Sugar

Blood sugar, or glucose, is the primary sugar found in the blood. The body gets glucose from the food we eat. This sugar is an essential energy source and provides nutrients to the body's organs, muscles, and nervous system. The absorption, storage, and production of glucose are regulated constantly by complex processes involving the small intestine, liver, and pancreas. 80 to 99 milligrams of sugar per deciliter before and 80 to 140 mg/dl after a meal is typical (12).


Cholesterol

Cholesterol comes from two sources. Your liver makes all the cholesterol you need. The remainder of the cholesterol in your body comes from animal products. For example, meat, poultry, and dairy products contain dietary cholesterol. Cholesterol circulates in the blood. As the amount of cholesterol in your blood increases, so does the risk to your health. High cholesterol contributes to a higher risk of cardiovascular events like heart disease and stroke. That’s why it’s crucial to have your cholesterol tested so that you can know your levels.


The two types of cholesterol are LDL cholesterol, which is terrible, and good HDL. Too much of the wrong kind, or not enough of the good kind, increases the risk cholesterol will slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. The average LDL level for an adult man or woman is less than 100mg/dL. The average HDL level for an adult man is more than 40mg/dL and 50mg/dL for a woman (13).


Triglycerides

Triglycerides are not cholesterol but part of a lipoprotein panel (the test that measures cholesterol levels). Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) found in your blood. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn't need to use right away into triglycerides. The triglycerides are stored in your fat cells. Later, hormones release triglycerides for energy between meals. A normal triglyceride level is below 150 mg/dL (14).


After you have an understanding of your numbers, you can start working on lifestyle changes to promote optimal heart health.


How to Naturally Promote Heart Health

There are so many factors to consider when supporting heart health. Of course, not every option is possible for everyone, which is okay. Understanding moderation and taking steps to better your lifestyle choices is the best any of us can do. None of us are perfect; that’s what makes us human. Here is a starting point to supporting heart health naturally. These are the things I’ve found beneficial in my heart health recovery, backed by science.


1. If You Smoke Cigarettes, Quit

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable diseases and death here in the United States. Cigarette smoke is a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals. When you inhale these chemicals, the blood that is distributed to the rest of the body becomes contaminated with those 7,000 chemicals and damages your heart and blood vessels, which can cause an array of health conditions like:

  • Coronary Heart Disease

  • Cardiovascular Disease

  • Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

  • Heart Attack

  • Stroke

  • Aneurysms

  • Peripheral Artery Disease

When you quit smoking, there are short-term and long-term health qualities like:

  • Twenty minutes after you quit smoking, your heart rate starts to drop back to an average rate.

  • Twelve hours after you quit smoking, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops back to normal, allowing more oxygen to reach vital organs like your heart.

  • Four years after you quit smoking, your risk of stroke drops to that of a lifetime nonsmoker.

The worst part is that this isn’t just for smokers; this is also for those exposed to second and third-hand smoke (15).


2. Choose Real, Plant-Based Foods

Whole foods include natural foods that are not heavily processed. Natural food products are real, unrefined, or minimally refined (i.e., whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes). . I choose plant-based, whole foods because a plant-based diet can be good for your heart. There are several types of plant-based lifestyles, but not all of them are healthy. To learn the benefits of adopting a plant-based lifestyle, check out my article Why Adopt A Plant-Based Lifestyle, here.


“If you’re eating mostly or only fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, and meat substitutes… you may cut your odds of getting heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, compared to a diet that includes a lot more meat (16).”


3. Reduce Salt Intake

Extra sodium (salt) in the bloodstream pulls water into your blood vessels, which increases the total amount (volume) of blood inside them. With more blood flowing through your blood vessels, blood pressure rises. Over time, high blood pressure may overstretch or injure the blood vessel walls and speed up plaque build-up leading to a heart attack.


“Eating less sodium can reduce your risk for high blood pressure and bloating and stave off other effects of too much salt. And did you know that reducing sodium in the food supply could save money and lives? One study suggested that if Americans moved to an average intake of 1,500 mg/day of sodium, it could result in a 25.6 percent overall decrease in blood pressure and an estimated $26.2 billion in health care savings. Another study projected that achieving this goal would reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease by anywhere from 500,000 to nearly 1.2 million over the next 10 years (17)."

The approximate amounts of sodium in a given amount of salt is:

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575mg sodium

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150mg sodium

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725mg sodium

  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300mg sodium

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,3000mg of sodium per day and is leaning more towards an ideal limit of 1,500mg per day for an adult (18). If you're going to use salt, personally, I recommend sticking to pink salt since it's minimally processed.


4. Cut Down On Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are fat modules with no double bonds between carbon molecules due to their saturation of hydrogen molecules. Eating foods that contain saturated fats can raise your cholesterol levels and lead to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.


The American Heart Association recommends aiming for a 5-6% caloric intake from saturated fats (i.e., if you eat 2,000 calories per day, no more than 120 calories should come from saturated fats) (19).


Some foods that contain saturated fat:

  • Lamb

  • Pork

  • Poultry (with skin)

  • Beef fat

  • Lard and cream

  • Butter

  • Cheese

In other words, avoid or limit animal products to help cut down on saturated fat intake.


5. Limit Processed Foods

Processed foods are loaded with sodium and phosphorus. Studies have shown that high phosphorus and sodium intake may harm the kidneys (20). Processed meats have been linked to chronic diseases such as high blood pressure (hypertension), heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (21). Additionally, ultra-processed foods such as packaged snacks, sugary cereals and drinks, chicken nuggets, and instant soup have been linked to poor heart health and a 12 percent increased risk of cardiovascular events (22).


6. Limit White Bread

Studies have linked grain intake in refined carbohydrates like white bread and white rice to lower the risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, refined carbohydrates are highly processed, and in that process, nutritional components like whole grains, fiber, and minerals are removed (23).


7. Limit Fast Food

Fast food is usually nothing but processed garbage. A study found that consuming fast food as little as once a week increased the risk of dying from coronary heart disease by 20 percent. That same risk can increase up to 50 percent if you eat fast food two or three times a week (24).


It may be fast and convenient now, but it also may be fatal later!

8. Understanding Heart-Healthy Foods

There’s so much controversy over heart-healthy foods. One source says to avoid eggs, while the next states to eat them frequently. Some older studies back this up, but eggs are not as heart-healthy as we once thought. Recent studies have found eggs to increase the risk of coronary artery calcium scores, a measure of heart disease risk, an increased risk of obesity and diabetes, and hypertension (25,26).


So why does the American Heart Association have nearly 40 recipes on their “Healthy Recipe” tab with egg ingredients?


Maybe it has something to do with Eggland’s Best being one of the American Heart Association’s proud national supporters, which means the American Heart Association is in their pockets (27).


If you’re looking for actual heart-healthy foods, aside from good old fruits and vegetables, keep reading.


9. Eat More Nuts

Besides being a healthy snack packed with protein, nuts are also packed with unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, plant sterols, and L-arginine. There are several potential ways eating nuts may positively impact your overall heart health, including:


  • Lowers your LDL cholesterol levels

  • Lowers your triglyceride levels

  • Improves the health of your arterial lining

  • Decreases levels of inflammation associated with heart disease

  • Reduces your risk of developing blood clots, which in the end lowers your risk of death from a heart attack (28).

10. Eat More Dark Chocolate

Quality dark chocolate is rich in polyphenols, providing health benefits like reduced inflammation, better blood flow, lower blood pressure, and improved cholesterol and blood sugar levels (29). Studies show that people who eat dark chocolate have a healthier cardiovascular system (30). Dark chocolate can aid in heart health because it:

  • Is linked to heart disease prevention

  • Is rich in antioxidants, which affect the cells of the heart and blood vessels

  • May boost your circulation

  • May calm your blood pressure

  • May lower stroke risk

  • Can help you lower cholesterol levels

  • Relieves stress on your heart

Check out the article I wrote for Modern Alternative Mama about the health benefits of chocolate here.


11. Eat More Grains

Refined carbohydrates are highly processed, removing nutritional components like whole grains, fiber, and minerals. Studies have linked grain intake in place of refined carbohydrates like white bread and white rice to lower the risk of heart disease (31). Common types of heart-healthy grains include:

  • Whole wheat

  • Oats

  • Brown rice

  • Wild rice

  • Quinoa (32)


12. Eat More Beans

The consumption of beans has been linked to decreasing the risk for cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and high blood pressure by at least 10 percent (33). These benefits result from the high protein, fiber, and minerals content without saturated fat. Some common types of beans include:

  • Black beans

  • Kidney beans

  • Pinto beans

  • Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

  • Navy beans

  • Cannellini beans


13. Eat More Seeds

The consumption of plant seeds has been found to influence cardiovascular health. These benefits result from the macro-and micronutrients, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals in plant seeds, reflecting their