Protect Your Heart this Valentines Day

This post isn't very romantic, but it sure is important! This is all about cholesterol. The discussions around cholesterol have been more than a little confusing in the past 20 years. Entire categories of food such as saturated fats and eggs have been demonized because of their high cholesterol content. Millions of Canadians are being diagnosed with high cholesterol levels, told to follow a low fat diet, and put on medication, but what does that really mean for you and your overall health?

What is Cholesterol?

We need cholesterol! Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in every cell of your body, and helps to produce proper cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids,which help you digest fats. One quarter of our body’s cholesterol is found in the brain so it is critical for neurological function, such as learning, memory and reaction time.

In order to travel through the bloodstream, cholesterol is attached to a molecule called a lipoprotein. There are 2 important categories of lipoprotein: LDL (“bad cholesterol”) and HDL (“good cholesterol”). HDL cholesterol is regarded as good cholesterol because it transports excess cholesterol from your arteries back to your liver. Higher levels of HDL have been associated with lower risk of heart disease and stroke. LDL on the other hand, works to deposit cholesterol in your arteries, increasing plaque build-up and risk of all forms of heart disease.

It’s all About Balance

Since cholesterol is essential for so many functions in the body, health is more about balancing the different types of cholesterol, and assessing your total risk factors for heart disease. Statin medications block the formation of all cholesterol in the body, and can have serious side effects, such as severe muscle pain, memory problems, disruption of hormone production and increased risk for diabetes. Taking a more targeted approach by increasing HDL and decreasing LDL will improve your overall health and decrease your risk of heart disease.

How to Do It?

Time to adopt some proven measures to help promote optimal heart health.

1.  Diet

Eating cholesterol in your diet does not greatly affect your cholesterol levels, so don’t be concerned about avoiding dietary cholesterol, as it has not been shown to increase blood cholesterol levels. The US government is even withdrawing it's warning that eating foods naturally high in cholesterol is bad for your heart. Instead, focus on reducing intake of processed foods, simple carbohydrates, fried foods and sugars. These foods lead to weight gain, increased cholesterol and inflammation in the body, and thereby increase your risk of heart disease.  

  • Best foods for heart health include leafy greens and healthy fats, such as fish, olive oil, nuts/seeds and avocados

  • Increase your fiber intake to prevent excess cholesterol from being absorbed into your bloodstream.

  • Incorporate oatmeal into your regular breakfast routine as it has been shown to significantly reduce LDL levels.

2. Exercise

Exercise is proven to increase HDL levels, while also decreasing LDL levels. Exercise also balances blood sugar, decreeases blood pressure and helps to maintain a healthy body weight – all of which decrease your risk for heart disease, along with many other conditions. Just 30 minutes a day helps decrease your risk of heart attack by 50 percent!!

3. Lifestyle Habits

Quit Smoking! Not only is smoking bad for your lungs, it is also one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease. Smoking increases LDL levels and makes you 6 times more likely to suffer a heart attack. High stress levels and lack of sleep also contribute to higher blood pressire, increased inflammation in the body and increased risk of heart attack and heart disease so take some time to learn about stress management techniques – your heart will thank you!

4. Customize your Plan

Heart health is all about overall health, and takes into account environmental, genetic and lifestyle factors. See your Naturopath about how to customize your treatment plan so it works best for you.