February is American Heart Month, and while this is an important topic all year round, this is a wonderful time to raise awareness about making changes and choices to improve cardiovascular health. Understanding the root causes of heart disease can guide the development of preventative strategies, such as the use of integrative medicine and a holistic approach to self-care.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease mortality is increasing in working-age adults. As the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, it is crucial to be proactive about our heart health. Cardiovascular disease typically involves the development of plaque in the arteries that obstruct or reduce blood flow and can cause heart attack or stroke. Several factors contribute to plaque formation, including foods rich in sugar and cholesterol, excess stress, alcohol consumption, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Depending on the specific illness, the symptoms of heart disease can show up as indigestion, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, excessive exhaustion, upper body discomfort, dizziness, shortness of breath, swelling of the feet or ankles, excessive fatigue, fluttering in the chest, or chest pain and discomfort.
How can we be more proactive in reducing our risk of heart disease? Here are some simple tips to consider to care for our hearts:
- “There are many aspects of heart health, and nutrition is part of it. We have an abundance of whole foods that are excellent sources of polyphenols. These are compounds found in whole foods and have antioxidant properties; they scavenge the free radicals which are formed in our bodies. Red wine in moderation, green tea, and chocolate are only a few to mention,” says Eleonora Gafton, Program Director Whole Foods Cooking Labs, and Associate Professor at MUIH.
- Adopt healthier behaviors such as a balanced diet, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. As Gafton explains, “Even when something is good for us, we need to be mindful and not overindulge. In addition, our body makes its antioxidants like CoQ10, one of the most potent antioxidants that support our heart muscles. Most of us know about the supplement, yet we also have foods high in CoQ10, like wild-caught salmon.”
- “Herbal medicines can offer a variety of benefits for supporting heart health. Hawthorne (Craetagus oxycantha) has a long history for supporting a healthy heart, and has been examined for its hypotensive and antioxidant effects. It is a safe herbal medicine and well tolerated, and a good place to begin if you want to add in extra support and prevention,” says Bevin Clare, Program Director Clinical Herbal Medicine, and Professor at MUIH.
- Monitor your blood sugar and cholesterol levels to keep your blood pressure under control. Increase your fiber, omega 3-fatty acids, fruits, nuts, avoid fatty foods, red and processed meats. Having regular checkups with your doctor can help to monitor and manage these health markers.
- Learn to manage stress through relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation. Have a supportive social network that you can rely on. Get the proper amount of rest by practicing good sleep hygiene and having a sleep schedule. Sleep tips include keeping your bedroom dark, taking a warm bath, and avoiding screens, such as smart phones, in the evening.
Remember, these changes should become new habits for life. Following these tips can significantly reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
For 40 years, patients have received healing experiences from the Natural Care Center, the student’s clinic at Maryland University of Integrative Health. To craft a personalized nutrition plan, experience relaxation with yoga therapy and acupuncture techniques, and achieve balance with herbal medicine, call 443-906-5794 or visit NCC.MUIH.edu