It’s a symbol for courage and love, but the heart is so much more—it keeps us, like, alive, man. For April, the Docs give their pointers for staying heart healthy by answering your questions.
Q: There is a significant history of heart disease in my family. What can I do to stay ahead of the inevitable and detect problems before my bad genes catch up to me?
A: As discussed in this space last month, the future of personalized medicine isn’t just in knowing which genes you have, but being able to activate the good ones and diminish the power of the bad. With or without a family history, the typical person dies of heart disease or stroke, but less than 2 percent have genes that condemn them. Because four factors control over 50 percent of heart disease, start with these:
♥ Kiss your butt goodbye: No, we’re not talking about weight, but about tobacco. It is still the leading cause of heart disease and strokes (not to mention cancer). If you don’t smoke but live or work in a smoke-filled environment, that’s still going to age you. Spending just one hour in the presence of secondhand smoke is the equivalent of smoking as many as four cigarettes.
♥ Re-examine “hearty” food: Simple carbs, added sugars, added syrups, saturated fats and trans fats are the five things that start, accelerate and magnify the inflammatory process in your arteries. That doughnut, soda and nacho platter aren’t just bad for your cholesterol; they also stimulate you to produce more inflammatory proteins to make the situation a lot worse.
♥ Get your clothes wet: We may not like to see sweat on treadmills or public speakers, but we want to see it on you. Cardiovascular activity lowers your blood pressure and may also be helpful because it makes your blood vessels more elastic by forcing them to dilate. In addition to 30 minutes of daily walking, aim for a minimum of 60 minutes a week of sweaty activity—ideally in three 20-minute sessions.
♥ Create a backup plan: Stress is almost as common a cause of heart attacks as tobacco. Activities like exercise and meditation help some people manage, and both will calm you through the release of feel-good substances such as nitric oxide and endorphins.
Q: My knees aren’t what they used to be. How can I get my heart level up when exercising?
A: We recommend low-impact activities such as swimming, cycling or using an elliptical trainer to get your heart rate up without compromising the quality of your joints in the process. And mix up your activities so you don’t get repetitive-use injuries from doing the same exercises over and over. We also recommend interval training—alternating periods of maximum effort with periods of recovery—for the maximum benefit of your heart. Check with your doc beforehand; she may want to try it in the controlled setting of a stress test first. Even one minute of maximum effort at the end of every 10 can be beneficial.
Q: I take a baby aspirin every morning for inflammation. Is there anything else I can make a part of my morning routine for better heart health?
A: Of all the things you shovel down, we think a baby aspirin, or half a regular aspirin, should be one, and we also take coenzyme Q10, vitamin D3, DHA omega-3 and half of a multivitamin twice a day. And here’s another tip that your doctor and dentist can agree on: flossing. All the florets of broccoli we see poking between people’s teeth confirm that 85 percent of men and 65 percent of women don’t floss regularly. Not only is this crucial for preventing tooth decay and periodontal disease, but it also cleans out inflammation-causing bacteria, thus helping to prevent heart disease. A note of caution: If you begin bleeding during flossing, be more careful to avoid hacking away at your gums. If that doesn’t work, the aspirin is the likely culprit, and you may have to cut back.
Q: Unfortunately, I wasn’t as conscious about heart health in my 20s and 30s, and now I have some pretty serious arterial blockage. I’ve heard chelation therapy can help. How does it work?
A: Think of chelation therapy as, basically, Drano for arteries. In the process, a solution is injected into your veins. It is supposed to bind with the calcium that hardens arterial plaque and will subsequently leave the body through your urine. The theory that chelation therapy works to diminish the calcium in your plaque has never been proved, but there’s anecdotal evidence that it can help clear arteries in some people. It’s very enticing, still experimental, but a recent large trial found about an 8 percent decrease in cardiovascular events in the chelation group compared to the control group. Remember, diet had a 35 percent effect in already optimally managed patients, so chelation works, but some other healthy behaviors, as mentioned in the answers above, should be adopted first.