February was heart month -- and it's not because of Valentine's Day. Rather, it was the month for spreading awareness for improving heart health in North America. This could not be a timelier task. Despite many advances in the field of cardiovascular medicine 1 in 3 deaths are still caused by heart attacks and/or stroke. Even more alarming is that the CDC states at least 1/3rd of these deaths are preventable due to diet and lifestyle. That is 220,000 preventable deaths in North America PER YEAR. Clearly, this is not a small number and an area that has a big window for improvement.
On a positive note, our entire approach to heart health has begun to take a fresher, updated approach to some of the guidelines that have been instilled in us for generations. Even just last week the USDA sent out a groundbreaking report clearing the air on the egg myth stating eggs were finally cleared from the role of the cholesterol heart villain they have erroneously made out to be for decades. While many of you may be saying "I knew that", many others are still confined to the dogma of outdated nutritional guidelines that have been instilled for decades. Steve Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, told USA Today: "It's the right decision. We got the dietary guidelines wrong. They've been wrong for decades." Further, The Washington Post recently reported that the 2015 edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, created by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, now states that "cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption."
While these big wins won't reduce heart disease per se, however it is nutritional truths like these that will continue to emerge and pave the road to a more comprehensive approach to this deadly disease, and many others. Below are my 5 Nutritional Tips to Decrease Your Risk of a Heart Attack:
1. Get Hooked on Fish
Harvard School of Public Health has shown that by increasing ones fish consumption; our omega 3 levels of EPA and DHA improve -- thus lowering pro-inflammatory processes in our body that are now being touted as the biggest trigger for heart disease. That's right cholesterol -- you are not villain #1 anymore. Fatty acids found in fish not only act as a natural fire extinguisher putting out nefarious 'flames', but also have a blood thinning effect evident by fish oil's ability to reduce platelet aggregation. Finally, fish oil has also been shown to decrease ventricular fibrillation causing cardiac arrest. Quick note, if you are going to eat fish -- stick with smaller fish (elbow to your fingertips in length) to avoid excess toxic metals.
2. Up Your CoQ10
Despite the ongoing debate regarding the effectiveness of cholesterol lowering medications and their effectiveness in reducing heart disease, these drugs are still the most commonly prescribed drugs in history. While I'm not against pharmaceutical intervention, this knee-jerk reflex of treating the symptom(s) without addressing the underlying factor(s) of heart disease is a broken model, and continues to cost tax payers trillions of dollars per year. If you are currently taking any form of statin medication it is imperative to increase your C0Q10 levels as this class of medications can lower the levels of this antioxidant in your heart tissue by 40%. Ironically, due to the powerful cardio-protective benefits of CoQ10, by reducing this nutrient actually causes damage to heart tissue and deficiencies in CoQ10 are associated with heart failure.
3. Skip the Sugar
We've heard it before, and we're going to keep hearing it again until we listen -- too much sugar causes disease. Full stop. This may sound like a dramatic overstatement to some, but let me assure you that this claim does not come lightly. Did you know the average North American consumes 150lbs of sugar per year? To put this in context, this is 20x more than we did in the 1800's... Even the mainstream media has picked up on the connection between sugar and chronic disease such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. In fact a recent program on CNN now blames more heart attacks and stroke on excess consumption of processed sugars than the previously demonized salt shaker. The best advice I can offer is to avoid processed foods, read the labels, and whenever possible make your own meals from scratch. Sure, the latter is not always possible for me either, but the good news is there are many exceptional food services that provide custom meals delivered to your door.
4. Wipe out the Wheat
If I were to ask you to choose between a Snicker's Bar and a bagel, which caused the biggest spike blood sugar when consumed -- which one would you pick? The glycemic index is a tool that measures foods for this exact reason, and yes certain breads such as bagels and other breadstuffs do actually score higher (GI=95) on this scale than this beloved Snickers candy bar (GI=51). Granted, the worst wheat offenders of our sugar homeostasis are those ground into flour which equals faster absorption into our bloodstream, followed by larger release of insulin, when repeated over and over and over again leads to inflammatory processes, especially affecting our heart. In fact, cardiologist William Davis, MD shows that wheat is one of biggest aggravators of LDL (typically known as bad cholesterol) surges, specifically of the small LDL subtype -- which is also the most dangerous to our cardiovascular system.
5. Increase Your Vitamin C
Decades ago, world famous researcher Dr. Linus Pauling reported that lack of Vitamin C caused increased cracks in coronary blood vessels which increased the risk of blood clots and ultimately, death. While this was indeed ground breaking work at the time, more recently Dr. Sydney Bush won a Nobel Prize showing those who took moderate amounts of vitamin C daily had a significant decrease in atherosclerosis, thus dramatically reducing their risk of heart disease. Humans are one of the few mammals that cannot produce this essential vitamin, thus we rely on getting this from our diet. Unfortunately, due to a number of contributing factors many of us are not getting enough Vitamin C from their diet alone. I recommend taking an additional 2-4 grams of a high quality vitamin C supplement daily.
Yours in health,
Dr. John Dempster, ND, FAARFM, ABAAHP
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: