Good Eats For A Healthy Heart

February 3, 2012
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By Mark William Lisky

Heart disease and cardiovascular disease are intertwined terms used to describe a variety of medical conditions. These conditions include coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure and diseases of the blood vessels. In the U.S., heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. The most common cause of heart disease is atherosclerosis, which is the deposit of damaged cholesterol and cellular debris (plaque) on the artery walls.

It can safely be said that the underlying disorder for heart disease and atherosclerosis is systemic inflammation. It can also be safely said that the risk factors which contribute to heart disease include obesity, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, psychological stress, family history and depression. These all perpetuate systemic inflammation. Over a long period of time inflammation and these risk factors can lead to a life-altering cardiac event.

Most women who have combined risk factors (i.e., lack of physical activity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure) will unfortunately wait for a cardiac event to happen before becoming proactive in their health. Being proactive means making certain lifestyle changes. These changes center on exercising more, losing some non-essential body fat via dieting, smoking cessation and decreasing psychological stress. Finding success in these changes, however, does take dogged determination and commitment. Until a woman makes the decision to take major steps, she can start by adding some common foods to her diet.

The Benefits Of Garlic

One such food is garlic. The myriad of health benefits of this herb have been noted for centuries. The first mention of this herb was in cuneiform on ancient Sumerian tablets dating 3,000 BC. Also in one of the oldest surviving medical texts, the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, garlic is repeatedly mentioned as a prescription for dozens of disorders and diseases.

Garlic’s potential heart helping properties come from several sulfur compounds including its most active ingredient, allicin. In dozens of studies, garlic has been shown to help reduce blood pressure as well as serum LDL (bad) cholesterol while increasing HDL (good) cardio-protective cholesterol. Another compound found in garlic is ajoene. This compound has been shown in research to help keep the blood vessels healthy and potentially reduce blot clots.

In a 2010 double-blind study involving patients whose health records documented uncontrolled hypertension researchers concluded, “Our trial suggests that aged garlic extract is superior to placebo in lowering systolic blood pressure similarly to current first line medications in patients with treated but uncontrolled hypertension.”

Another study showed supplementation with garlic extract inhibited vascular calcification in patients with high blood cholesterol. Garlic also has a high selenium content. Selenium is a trace mineral proven to be another cardio-protector.

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 Lower Cholesterol With Omega-3s

The next foods you may want to add to your menu can be collectively grouped into an assortment that all contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. This food group includes olives, olive oil, canola oil, cold water fish, sardines, herring, walnuts, almonds, avocados, flaxseeds, grass fed beef and dark leafy vegetables. Omega-3 fatty acids are good types of essential fat (meaning they can’t be produced by the body) which have been shown to lower total cholesterol and LDL levels. The mechanism for this action and others is believed to be omega-3s ability to reduce inflammation.

The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids have been known since the 1930s, however, their importance was specifically noted in research during the1970s. Researchers studying the indigenous Inuit people of Greenland, found that although their diet was very high in animal fat mostly from fish, there was virtually no cardiovascular disease. The Inuits had, in comparison to other peoples, very low rates of triglycerides (precursors to cholesterol), high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.

Another study of omega-3s showed that survivors of past cardiac events (including myocardial infarctions) are less likely to die from another arrhythmic event if they are consuming high levels of omega-3s. According to experts, this specific effect is thought to be due to omega-3 fatty acids’ ability to increase the fibrillation threshold of heart tissue.

Mushrooms Can Lower Blood Pressure

If you like common white mushrooms, try using other mushrooms like shiitakes and their relative, reishis. Both these types have been used for over 2,000 years as both food and medicine. As far as heart health, a compound found in shiitakes, eritadenine, has been shown to have an LDL cholesterol-lowering action. It has also been documented in studies, that these mushrooms may lower blood pressure.

Mushrooms’ relationship to the heart and their collective cholesterol-lowering action was demonstrated when the properties of the first statin medications, currently used to control cholesterol levels, were discovered in these and other mushrooms (including oyster mushrooms). As a bonus, shiitakes may have important immune-enhancing properties and are being looked at in cancer prevention studies. Like most mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms can produce high amounts of vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.

Spice Up Your Life To Protect Your Heart

For heart health, you may also want to check out your spice rack. Several spices have been shown in numerous studies to have cardio-protective properties. One is the spice turmeric, which is a base ingredient in curry dishes. Turmeric has been found in studies to help lower systemic inflammation, which, as mentioned,  is one of the underlying causes of plaque build-up in the arteries.

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The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric have been shown in some studies to be as powerful as cortisone. It is thought that turmeric inhibits the action of two enzymes, both of which are important in promoting inflammation. Also, the compound curcumin that gives turmeric its intense color has been demonstrated to have an LDL cholesterol lowering property.

Another spice you may want to use more often is cayenne pepper in place of black pepper. The active ingredient in cayenne pepper, capsaicin, has been shown to help lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure. According to studies, the oral intake of capsaicin may increase the production of heat by the body for a short time, increasing metabolism. This may affect carbohydrate breakdown by helping to regulate blood sugar levels.

Ginger is another fragrant kitchen spice you may want to use more often. Ginger has been shown to improve cholesterol profile by limiting cholesterol absorption. It also acts as an anti-platelet agent. Parsley is an item that is much more than a decoration on your dinner plate. Dried parsley as a medicine dates back to ancient Rome where the physicians prescribed it for epilepsy. Parsley is a powerful diuretic and has been shown to lower blood pressure.

Alcohol Has Benefits

Finally, if you like having a drink with supper, by all means do. In dozens of studies, its been repeatedly shown that very moderate alcohol consumption, specifically distilled spirits like vodka, have cardio-protective effects. These effects include increased HDL production (up to 20 percent in some studies), anti-platelet actions and “perceived” stress reduction. Also in limited amounts, alcohol stimulates the blood vessels to release a compound which is the same compound given intravenously to dissolve clots after a heart attack or stroke.

Note that the anti-clotting action of several foods mentioned that may help in the battle against heart disease should be used cautiously  with any anticoagulant medication or anti-platelet therapy. If you have any blood clotting or bleeding disorders and issues, always check with your doctor before increasing your culinary horizons towards a healthier heart.

Mark William Lisky is a consulting fitness expert using western and eastern exercise techniques for physical and spiritual development. His programs include integrated strength training, restorative exercise and healing, body-fat management and successful aging fitness. No Boot Camp – No Screaming – No Loud Music – No Pain. Just Successful Physical Fitness the Way Nature Intended. Start Today. Call Mark at (732) 933-9070 or e-mail:


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