February, among many other things, is American Heart Month. And while I could astonish you with several heart-health-related statistics that may alarm and unsettle you, I think we may already have enough in this world that is alarming and unsettling right now. But really, it’s scary - protect your heart. This bit of (non-)advice is always important, but even more so this year. This, the year where many of us may have turned to not-so-healthy vices to get through the monotony of a global pandemic. The good news is that heart disease is, for the most part, preventable as well as treatable if caught early enough. In fact, extra good news: there are many effective, natural solutions out there that you can try before needing medication. Naturopathic doctors are trained to treat the whole person. They look at the environmental, emotional, behavioral, and genetic factors to their patients’ health concerns. And while each health plan is specific to each individual, naturopaths look at many key specific factors when preventing and treating heart disease. Below is a quick list of naturopath-approved heart-healthy tips you can implement today into your daily routine.
Identify underlying telltale health concerns: Many times heart disease shows up as symptoms of other issues. Oftentimes these issues occur due to long-standing chronic inflammation within the body. Inflammation is instigated and maintained by many factors including a pro-inflammatory diet, sedentary lifestyle, stress, auto-immune disorders, etc. This inflammation kicks off the atherosclerotic symptoms and can lead to hardening and narrowing of the arteries as well as plaque buildup. Sitting down with your naturopathic doctor can help pinpoint the largest inflammatory behaviors in your life. They can also help you look for other underlying health concerns that may lead to or notify you of larger heart-health concerns. According to the Mayo Clinic, conditions to look out for include:
Shortness of breath (dyspnea) when you exert yourself or when you lie down
Fatigue and weakness
Swelling (edema) in your legs, ankles, and feet
Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Reduced ability to exercise
Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged phlegm
Increased need to urinate at night
Swelling of your abdomen (ascites)
Very rapid weight gain from fluid retention
Lack of appetite and nausea
Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness
Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus
Chest pain if your heart failure is caused by a heart attack
Address gastrointestinal health: The gastrointestinal (GI) tract can be one of the largest hotbeds of inflammation within your body. When your gut microorganisms are not in balance, your body can respond with acute and prolonged inflammation - this is often known as leaky gut; sounds gross, feels worse. Leaky gut, along with other gastrointestinal health issues, has been known to lead to heart disease. Restoring the gut back to a level of healthy homeostasis is an important step to preventing heart disease as well as many other chronic health issues. This would include working to bring about and maintain healthy bacteria levels within the gut, restoring gut pH, and correcting prolonged gut inflammation.
Movement and mitigating cardiovascular risk factors: Unfortunately, there are many other health conditions that tend to go hand-in-hand with heart disease. However, many of these comorbidities have been found to be alleviated by intentional movement and exercise. It’s been well documented that exercise has a beneficial impact on heart disease risk factors such as diabetes, depression, and inflammation. Intentional movement that makes you happy and lifts your spirits is a great lifestyle modification you can make today to help you step in the right direction toward heart health.
Medicinal Herbs/Botanical Medicine: It’s no secret that I love herbal medicine. I love the science behind how our favorite herbs/flowers/trees/weeds/etc. may be able to help us along in our quest for better health. A few items of plant medicine that have been shown to help in the arena of heart health include:
Hawthorn Berry: a flavonoid contained within the berries of the hawthorn plant, known as proanthocyanidin, has been found to be particularly cardioprotective. It’s thought that this flavonoid, along with others found within the hawthorn berry, has the ability to increase blood flow within the arteries by way of dilation, further protecting the heart. It’s also been found to increase the strength of the cardiac muscle contractions as well as decrease blood pressure. On top of this all, hawthorn is well known for its antioxidant potential.
Hibiscus: besides being a beautiful flower, hibiscus makes a delicious and astringent tea with antiviral and nervine properties - this means it helps relax your nervous system. Hibiscus tea and supplements have recently found an increase in published research linking it to improvements in dyslipidemia, hypertension, blood sugar, as well as increases in HDL (good cholesterol) and decreases in LDL (bad cholesterol). It’s also delicious! It makes a beautiful pink tea and paired with peppermint, can’t be beaten as a delicious cooling drink in the summer!
Heart health is a lifelong journey and should be monitored further outside of American Heart Month. There are many steps you can take today to naturally protect your heart and guarantee its health.