February: American Heart Month

Alongside Valentine’s Day, February is well known for being American Heart Month, the goal of which is to raise awareness about and encourage prevention of heart disease, which is a term that encompasses a variety of conditions negatively affecting the heart’s structure and function. Symptoms of heart disease are different from person to person, but a heart-healthy lifestyle can benefit everyone. 

Before reading on to learn about things to consider in your heart-healthy lifestyle, know that the best prevention comes from what we’ve all probably heard many times before: a balanced diet, physical activity, adequate sleep, stress management, and not smoking. In addition to these things, you may consider adding some specific heart-healthy foods and/or supplements to your diet. When considering supplements, make sure to consult with a trusted healthcare provider before making any changes. Everyone is different, and it’s important to know the individual risks, so also make sure to keep regular medical appointments. 

FOODS

  • Garlic: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, supports healthy cholesterol levels
  • Salmon: Loaded with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats and linked to lower cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and blood sugar
  • Dark Leafy Greens: concentrated source of vitamins and minerals, linked to blood vessel function and lower incidence of heart disease
  • Oats: high in fiber, may help reduce cholesterol
  • Berries: rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, linked to reduction of several risk factors for heart disease
  • Avocado: excellent source of heart healthy fat, linked to lower cholesterol and reduced risk of heart disease
  • Walnuts: anti-inflammatory and an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals; linked to lower blood pressure and inflammation
  • Beans: high in fiber, linked to lower cholesterol
  • Dark Chocolate: rich in antioxidants and associated with lower risk of heart disease; make sure to choose at least 70% dark to avoid excess sugar
  • Olive Oil: rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, as well as heart health fat; associated with reduced risk of heart disease
  • Green Tea: loaded with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, linked to lower cholesterol and blood pressure

SUPPLEMENTS

  • Hawthorn Berry: high in antioxidants, may lower blood pressure and cholesterol, historically used to treat heart failure
  • Omega-3: anti-inflammatory, may reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and/or triglycerides
  • Magnesium: may improve blood vessel function and protect heart against stress during exercise
  • Potassium: associated with improved blood pressure and cholesterol, required for regular heart rhythm
  • Collagen: required for healthy arteries and may prevent atherosclerosis which can lead to heart attack or stroke
  • Vitamin C: may lower blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and overall risk of heart disease
  • Resveratrol: may have positive effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar

BLOOD TESTS

  • Lipid Profile: basic screening for abnormalities in cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Advanced Lipid Panel: provides additional detail to assess long-term risk for heart disease
  • Homocysteine: elevated level is a risk for heart disease
  • C-Reactive Protein (CRP): measures inflammation, may predict risk of heart disease as well as cholesterol levels
  • HgbA1C: a way to measure blood sugar over time; elevated levels linked to higher risk for heart disease
  • Fasting Insulin: elevated levels linked to high blood pressure and risk for heart disease
  • Vitamin D: important for general health and prevention of many diseases; deficiency increasingly linked to risk for various types of heart disease

As a reminder, the best “medicine” is a healthy lifestyle, and a focus on small, positive behavior change is what makes a difference. This year for American Heart Month, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute asks us to take care of our own hearts so that we may set an example for others around us to do the same. So, what changes can you make to take care of your heart? Comment to let us know!

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