February is American Heart Health Month, a time each year designated to encourage Americans to focus on their hearts and, well, its overall health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death of men, women, and people of all ethnicities and races in the United States, representing one in four deaths nationally. It’s a morbid statistic, but with 47% of Americans having at least one of the top three key risk factors for heart disease–high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking–it’s a cause that should be at the forefront of all of our minds to stay healthy.
What causes heart disease?
Heart disease is an umbrella term for a large range of conditions that can affect your heart, like coronary artery disease, arrhythmias (heart rhythm problems), as well as congenital heart defects. Heart conditions can also affect your heart’s muscle, valves, and rhythm.
Heart disease is often when your heart or blood vessels are damaged by atherosclerosis, a building up fatty plaque within your arteries. As the plaque builds up, the walls of our arteries become thick and stiff, making it more difficult for blood to properly flow through your arteries into the rest of your organs. Because of its ability to inhibit natural blood flow that brings oxygen and nutrients to the rest of your body, atherosclerosis is the most common cause of heart disease. An unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, smoking (nicotine can cause your blood vessels to constrict and carbon monoxide damages their inner lining), and weight are four common–but correctable–issues that can lead to heart disease as well.
What are the risk factors for heart disease?
Beyond the common causes that can lead to heart disease, there are different factors in our lives that can affect our heart health, both positively and negatively. As we get older, there’s a higher risk of having damaged, narrowed arteries and weak or thick heart muscle. Your family’s health history also plays a big role in your chances of heart disease, especially if their diagnosis came at an early age. For men, before 55 is considered early and for women, it’s 65. Having high blood pressure increases your chances of heart disease, as high blood pressure that isn’t monitored or controlled can make your arteries thickened and hardened, thus narrowing your blood vessels.
Diabetes, stress, and poor hygiene can all damage your arteries and put you at risk for heart disease as well as heart infections.
How can you prevent heart disease?
Not all heart diseases can be prevented, like heart defects. Other types of heart disease can be preventable by correcting everyday behaviors to improve your lifestyle and decrease the likelihood of developing heart disease down the line. Keep all extraneous health conditions under control, especially high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Stopping smoking, both cigarettes, and vapes–the nicotine can cause damage too–is another preventative method to keep your heart (and body) in its best shape.
Try to exercise a minimum of 30 minutes a day throughout the week and implement a diet that’s low in salt, fat, cholesterol, and sugar to help maintain a healthy weight. It’s also recommended to try to reduce your amount of everyday stress and learn how to better manage it on the day today.
How can you treat heart disease?
Heart disease can be treated in similar ways to prevent from getting them in the first place. Implementing lifestyle changes is the key to maintaining healthy blood flow throughout your body to deliver the oxygen and nutrients that you need to stay alive. If you’re at risk of heart disease or already suffer from it, introduce a low-fat as well as a low-sodium diet into your routine and try to cut out–or at least limit–alcohol intake. If you smoke, it’s recommended to stop.
There are also herbs and supplements you can take to reduce your symptoms of heart disease–typically by fighting atherosclerosis–by lowering your blood pressure, helping your heart function better, and improve your breathing. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation caused by atherosclerosis and lower levels of fatty blood components that block your arteries, like triglycerides. Both magnesium and potassium are good for your heart function overall and can help reduce blood pressure. Potassium alone can help offset a diet heavy in salt when it comes to your blood pressure. CoenzymeQ10, commonly known as CoQ10, plays a crucial role in your cells’ ability to take energy from food. Our heart needs to have a constant supply of CoQ10 since it’s the hardest working muscle in our bodies and needs all of the energy it can get to do its job and pump oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body.