Post by Kelly Brown, Bsc. N.D
In North America, cardiovascular conditions are one of the leading causes of mortality and prescription medications. The cardiovascular system includes your heart and all of your blood vessels. There are many conditions and diseases that affect the cardiovascular system, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis (hardening of the blood vessels), atherosclerosis (fatty deposits on the blood vessels), heart attacks, strokes and more.
Cardiovascular symptoms can often be very similar to non-cardiac disorder symptoms. These can include chest pain, fainting, chronic cough, fatigue, lightheadedness, palpitations, shortness of breath and edema (swelling). Also, a cardiovascular condition may exist without symptoms for a long time, hence why heart disease is often deemed “The Silent Killer”. It is important to stay up to date with physical exams and blood work from your doctor.
The doctor can monitor your blood pressure, heart rate and rhythm, respiratory rate, temperature, changes in pulse, and changes in blood pressure from lying to standing. They can also listen to your heart and look for unique heart sounds or murmurs can indicate problems with heart valves and flow. In addition to this, blood tests will show cholesterol, electrolytes and red blood cells-shape, size, amount, etc., which can determine a diagnosis.
Treatment and Prevention
Medical treatments vary depending on the cardiovascular condition(s) present. However, the best way to treat cardiovascular conditions is to prevent them in the first place! It is one of the simplest and easiest solutions. Many patients have the misconception that genetics will pre-vail, regardless of diet and lifestyle and that if heart disease runs in their family, there is nothing they can do in terms of prevention. Fortunately that isn’t always how genes work. Even if we carry a gene for a certain disease, a lifestyle and dietary factors can play a role in determining whether that gene is turned on or kept off. A helpful analogy that has been used states that “genetics loads the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger”. Although this isn’t always 100% the case, (everyone has seen their healthiest friend get sick), prevention is of utmost importance, especially if disease is in your DNA!
Exercise is one of the most important aspects of a healthy lifestyle. It sounds redundant and repetitive but it has to be mentioned because it is VERY TRUE! I have witnessed many patients who able to quickly come off of their long term prescription medications, with permission from their medical doctors, after starting a moderate exercise program. When starting to exercise, it is important that you find something you love to do, or it won’t continue long term. Regular activity and avoiding sitting for long periods of time can have a major impact on your cardiovascular system. If you have a desk job make sure to stand up, walk around and maybe even do a few squats every 30 minutes. A recent study, released in 2015, about long term sitting and increased cardiovascular risk has recognized long term sitting as the “new smoking”.
A low-calorie diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and healthy fats are the next important step in prevention. This is often difficult to navigate without a professional due to the constant conflicting media messages and forever changing research. For example, despite opposing claims, some of the latest research shows that coconut oil can actually help with heart health! Coconut oil raises your HDL which is your GOOD cholesterol.
Omega 3’s are one of the most important supplements for the cardiovascular system as they have shown to be extremely beneficial in prevention and treatment. In Manitoba, people often choose to supplement with a fish oil due to a limited diet. However, it is important to be aware of the source, as some inexpensive forms do not make a major change in health. Omega 3’s are well studied and research shows that they have to be taken at the proper dose, with the ideal ratio of EPA: DHA (type of omega 3’s). Higher quality supplement brands will often test for and determine mercury content in the oil and discard the batch if levels are too high.
Plant sterols are also used in cardiovascular health for prevention and treatment. These are often found in supplement form, where a potent sterol concentration is used to treat the condition. Multiple studies have also been done on soluble fibres or different foods/powders to aid in prevention, management and treatment of cholesterol or cardiovascular conditions.
A professional can help you determine what vitamins and minerals might be lacking in your diet. You may want to consider talking to a Naturopathic Practitioner about supplements, diet, lifestyle and proper dosing. It is also important to consult with a Medical Doctor, especially if you are taking medication, because many herbs and supplements interact to each other, as well as other diseases and medications.