By Dr. Joe Wessels
Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. This is one way we celebrate the heart in February, but did you also know that February is National Heart Health Month? Indeed, February is when we get to pay tribute to this important organ! We'd be remiss if we didn't mention that February is also Black History Month. Since I'm a doctor, in this article we’ll be focusing on heart health. We’ve all got one and we want it to last!
Your heart is a pump made of muscle only slightly bigger than your fist. Every day, the heart beats about 100,000 times as it pumps nearly 2000 gallons of blood through the circulatory system (1). You can do the math to see what these numbers are over 10 years, 50 years, and beyond, and it’ll make you realize the importance of keeping the heart functioning as efficiently as possible. The heart is a muscle and like all muscles, it weakens with age. When we proactively care for our heart, we can keep it beating like a champ well into our old age.
Unfortunately, heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in the U.S., and the CDC Foundation predicts that by 2030, the US will spend $818 billion annually on the treatment of heart disease (2). Not surprisingly, it is also one of the major causes of disability in the U.S. The World Health Organization estimates that it represents 30% of all global deaths (3). These are grim statistics. On a brighter note, the majority of heart issues are preventable.
Most people don’t even start to show interest in heart health until they reach middle age or beyond. A growing body of research shows that focusing on heart health at a younger age is beneficial. This is why a healthy diet and lifestyle has to be the basic foundation for health. The importance of these foundations is evident when you look at the triggers for heart disease, which include (but are not limited to) high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, smoking, diabetes, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, stress, and excessive alcohol use.
When you look at societies that follow nature’s rhythms, aging issues like high blood pressure and heart disease are very rare. The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner is a book that explores these trends. I'm not going to go into all the lifestyle factors listed above in this article, but I do want to talk about the first two, which aren’t usually explained clearly enough.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is sometimes referred to as the “silent killer” because there’s usually no noticeable symptoms. Over a period of time, this causes the heart muscle to thicken because it is working harder. Unlike other muscles, when the heart walls thicken, the heart’s capacity to fill with blood diminishes. This issue is probably the leading cause of all cardiac issues. It is extremely important to monitor your blood pressure at least yearly - especially if you have a family history of high blood pressure. Hypertension is preventable for a majority of people through simple changes in diet and lifestyle.
Over the years, cholesterol has garnered some negative connotations regarding heart health. When in reality, cholesterol is an essential fat in the body that has many important roles.
- The hormones cortisol, testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone are all made from cholesterol.
- Vitamin D is part of the cholesterol family.
Our diet is intimately related to our cholesterol levels, and when elevated outside of normal range, certain types of cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease. Because of this increased risk, statin drugs were developed to lower cholesterol. However, since the introduction of statin drugs, there has been a trend in medicine to lower cholesterol to levels that are too low to maintain these essential hormones. This can muddy the waters when we start to look at research on statin therapy, heart disease, and mortality.
In one of the larger studies done on heart disease mortality, the chances of dying were the same whether your cholesterol was 150 or 250 (4). Which begs the question – shouldn’t we be looking at more than just statin therapy for elevated cholesterol and the prevention of heart disease? At NCNM House, we look at more than total cholesterol levels. A deeper dive allows us to assess cardiovascular risk by examining levels of different types of cholesterol, in addition to inflammatory markers. This gives us more specific information about a person’s heart health as it relates to lipid metabolism, and therefore guides our treatment plan in a more personalized direction.
Our Team looks forward to the opportunity to help you understand your number, what risk that has on your cardiovascular health, and talk about your options. There are many ways to approach this topic when it comes to heart health and it’s never too early (or late!) to start thinking about your heart!
From our House to yours, Happy Valentine’s Day and more importantly, Happy National Heart Health Month.
To celebrate, we’re offering a 15% discount on two of our favorite heart health supplements:
- K2+D3 5000: K2 is an important vitamin to direct calcium into your bones, as opposed to being deposited in your arteries.
- BergaCor contains bergamot extract, a powerful flavonoid which supports both the heart and healthy blood glucose levels.
Our dispensary includes many other herbs and nutrients to support your heart, ask our doctors what’s right for you. Schedule Here.
1. NOVA Online | Cut to the Heart | Map of the Human Heart | Amazing Heart Facts. PBS. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/heart/heartfacts.html. Accessed February 10, 2021.
2. Heart Disease and Stroke Cost America Nearly $1 Billion a Day in Medical Costs, Lost Productivity. Heart Disease and Stroke Cost America Nearly $1 Billion a Day in Medical Costs, Lost Productivity | CDC Foundation. https://www.cdcfoundation.org/pr/2015/heart-disease-and-stroke-cost-america-nearly-1-billion-day-medical-costs-lost-productivity. Published April 29, 2015. Accessed February 10, 2021.
3. Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cardiovascular-diseases-(cvds). Accessed February 10, 2021.
4. Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial Group. “The Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT). A national study of primary prevention of coronary heart disease.” (1976) Journal of the American Medical Association, 235(8): 825-827.