I was asked to give a talk on Valentine's Day about 'Eating for Heart Health', this was along with the British Heart Foundation and Stroke Association. The two charities discussed the work they did, and Peggy from the Stroke Association explained which risk factors we are in control of. She also described the FAST test which we should all know, it helps us identify if someone is having a stroke so we can get help, fast.
Face - get them to smile, has it fallen to one side?
Arms - ask them to raise their arms, are they unable to raise one arm?
Smile - ask them their name, is it slurred?
Time - if you spot any signs call 999
(These are not the only signs, check the website for more details).
Many people think that heart disease or stroke is something that happens to us when we get older. It can happen earlier in life though, and quality of life afterwards will be affected. I talked about the risk factors and what we can do from a nutritional (and yoga) perspective.
Risk factors (a) include:
1) High blood pressure
3) High cholesterol
6) Areas you can manage include alcohol, stress and exercise.
Here is a whistle stop tour through those risk factors, if something is relevant to you then book in for a consultation and we can personalise what you need to do with your diet.
High Blood Pressure
If you've not had it checked then that is the first thing to do. Some people have 'white coat hypertension' and get elevated results at the GP. You will probably be asked to test yourself at home, you can get kits from the pharmacy or the GP may give you a kit for a 24h test.
When your numbers are 140/90 or above, the doctor will start to get interested. That's because your relative risk of stroke increases dramatically and then continues to increase as BP increases. High blood pressure has no symptoms but is the biggest risk factor for stroke. Certain foods may help reduce blood pressure.
'Being overweight increases your risk of having an ischaemic stroke by 22%. If you’re obese your risk increases by 64%. So it’s very important to try and maintain a healthy weight'. (a)
Weight around the middle is also a concern, this is often linked with high blood pressure and diabetes.
ACTION: Get to your ideal weight and waist measurement.
A blood test is used to measure your LDL, HDL and Triglyceride levels.
LDL - (Low density lipoprotein) is 'bad', it lays down fat in the arteries.
HDL - (High density lipoprotein) is 'good', it moves fat from the body.
The ratios are important as you want more good than bad cholesterol, there may also be a family 'familial' component influencing your numbers.
ACTION: Exercise, and modify your diet and drink
If you have diabetes then you need to manage it with diet and medication if your GP prescribed it. Having diabetes puts you at more risk of heart disease (b).
That's because diabetes (unless well controlled) will cause high levels of glucose in the bloodstream, this can damage your arteries and make it more likely that fatty deposits will build up called 'atherosclerosis'. These fatty deposits thin the arteries making it harder for the blood to flow, and clots may form and cause a heart attack.
ACTION: Manage your diabetes, take action to prevent diabetes.
Risk of atherosclerosis (fatty material build up) increases with smoking, smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to people that never smoked.
ACTION: Stop smoking.
Alcohol - Moderate it
One of the problems with alcohol is that it encourages unhealthy habits like smoking and eating sugary or fatty foods. The other reason is that drinking too much alcohol increases blood pressure (a).
ACTION: Monitor and reduce to guideline amounts or lower.
Stress - Manage It
When we are stressed our blood pressure increases, our body releases glucose into the bloodstream and we have energy to 'fight or flight'. This was just what we needed when we were a caveman or woman and needed to fight or run from a tiger. These days our stress could be an accumulation of all the little things like traffic jams and emails, constant stress that doesn't go away. These may be contributing to your high blood pressure, or fat around the middle. That glucose has to go somewhere.
ACTION: Join my Wednesday yoga class! 8pm at The Cornerstone.
You need to exercise, it increases the level of HDL (good cholesterol), and it exercises your heart. Your heart is a muscle and needs exercising just like your leg muscles. Regular moderate exercise can reduce your risk of stroke by 27% (b).
ACTION: Get a pedometer and increase your daily steps, enter an event and get training, talk to me to create an achievable goal and action plan.
Strategies for a Healthy Heart
Food, drink, exercise and lifestyle! Depending what is important for you we can focus on salt, glucose levels, fats in the diet, exercise ideas, lifestyle and supplement ideas. There are some generic recommendations such as reduce salt to reduce blood pressure but what does that mean in a normal day, with your diet?
(1) Reduce salt to less than 5g (tsp) a day - Read labels and don't add salt.
(2) Cut out processed foods.
(3) Increase fruit and vegetables.
(4) Get your weight to a healthy weight.
Concerned about your Heart Health?
Book a consultation and I can talk to you about the tests you can do (via your GP or private testing). I can take a look at your food diary, exercise and lifestyle and offer some recommendations. If you have already got test results then you can bring those along and we can create a plan of action. If you know a friend or family member that needs some help, please let them know my details.
A typical programme could include:
- Food diary check and recommendations.
- Strategies to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
- Optional weight, waist and BP check.
- Review of GP tests (cholesterol, BP etc), or private tests.
- Tips on stress management, exercise and lifestyle.