Youâ??ve just had a brush with death. Maybe not the white-light-in-a-tunnel experience, but a close call, nonetheless. Lucky for you, you're still alive to read this.
You’ve just had a brush with death. Maybe not the white-light-in-a-tunnel experience, but a close call, nonetheless. Lucky for you, you’re still alive to read this.
Now it’s time to make some tough decisions. You can repeat all the dietary mistakes that set the stage for your heart attack. You can bet your life on your doctor’s prescriptions. Or if you’re really serious about staying alive, you can make some real changes to add quality years to your life.
This article focuses on 10 steps for making those changes. The changes involve changing your eating habits, losing weight if you’re overweight, taking supplements, engaging in physical activity, and reducing stress. If it all seems a bit daunting, consider that you might not get a second chance.
Work on Your Eating Habits
1. Eat more veggies
If you’ve never been a big fan of veggies, consider them an acquired taste worth cultivating. Nonstarchy vegetables, which include broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and salad greens, are rich in antioxidants and fibre. The antioxidants prevent free-radical damage to your heart and keep your cholesterol from “going bad,” while the fibre lowers your blood sugar levels.
Steam these veggies or saut?hem in a small amount of olive oil. Avoid starch-heavy potatoes in all forms, though it’s all right to occasionally eat a baked sweet potato or yam.
The same principle applies to fruits. Nonstarchy fruits, such as raspberries, blueberries, apples, and kiwifruit, are great, but stay away from bananas and pears.
2. Eat more fish
Studies have repeatedly found that high-protein diets reduce cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood sugar levels. But if you’re wary about following a strict low-carb regimen, you can eat protein without a lot of saturated fat.
Cold-water fish, such as salmon and tuna, contain almost no saturated fat. Instead, they are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fats lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reduce blood pressure, and help prevent heart-rhythm abnormalities such as arrhythmias. High fish consumption is associated with a low risk of heart attack.
According to a study by Christine M. Albert, MD, of the Harvard School of Public Health, men who ate a lot of fish were 81 percent less likely to die from sudden cardiac death. This condition kills thousands of Canadians each year, usually people who had no previous symptoms of heart disease.
Meatier options that are relatively low in saturated fat include chicken, turkey, or ostrich.
3. Cook with healthier oils
It’s no secret that the traditional Mediterranean diet, rich in fish and vegetables, has another healthy ingredient: olive oil. Extra-virgin olive oil (made from the first pressing of ripe olives) contains oleic acid, a heart-friendly cooking oil. Australian macadamia nut oil is just as good and can also tolerate slightly higher cooking temperatures.
4. Drink more tea
Green tea and ordinary black tea–hot or iced–are loaded with powerful antioxidant flavonoids. Dutch researchers recently confirmed what the Japanese have known for years: people who drink three or more cups of tea daily have almost half the risk of suffering a heart attack and are almost three-quarters less likely to have a fatal heart attack as those who don’t drink tea.
Meanwhile, stop drinking sugary soft drinks and cut back or completely eliminate beer and spirits. One glass of organic red wine daily is considered heart healthy by some because of the antioxidant resveratrol in the grape skins.
Use Smart Supplements
5. Take antioxidants
Vitamin E and other antioxidants have long been known to fight harmful free radicals, which oxidize cholesterol and damage arteries. Some recent research has clouded the picture for vitamin E, but the totality of evidence–cell, animal, and human studies–shows that it can reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attack.
In a six-year study of 440 men and women, Jukka T. Salonen, MD, PhD, of the University of Kuopio, Finland, found that a combination of natural vitamin E (136 IU) and time-release vitamin C (250 mg) reduced carotid-artery thickness by 37 percent, compared with placebos.
Coenzyme Q10 is particularly important for people taking statin cholesterol-lowering drugs. These drugs inhibit the body’s own production of CoQ10, leading to reduced heart function. A study by Peter H. Langsjoen, MD, in the American Journal of Cardiology, found that CoQ10 supplements reversed the heart problems (leading to shortness of breath, fatigue, and heart failure) caused by statins.
Daily dosage: 200 to 400 IU of vitamin E, 500 mg of vitamin C–or a multi-antioxidant supplement. Consider adding 100 to 300 mg of coenzyme Q10.
6. Take B vitamins
In large amounts homocysteine damages blood vessel walls and sets the stage for cholesterol deposits. You can keep your body’s homocysteine levels low by taking supplements of either folic acid or, better yet, a B-complex formula.
B-vitamin supplements are also beneficial after undergoing balloon angioplasty, a surgical procedure that opens up clogged arteries. Guido Schnyder, MD, of the University of California Medical Center, San Diego, asked 553 patients to take either B vitamins (400 mcg folic acid, 400 mcg vitamin B12, and 10 mg vitamin B6 daily) or placebos for six months after undergoing angioplasty. Patients taking the vitamins were 32 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack, need repeat surgery, or die.
Daily dosage: Moderately high-potency B-complex supplement containing 400 mg of folic acid.
7. Take fish oils
You can increase many of the health benefits of eating fish by taking fish oil capsules. In a recent study, Italian researcher Roberto Marchioli, MD, tracked the health of more than 11,000 patients who had recently suffered a heart attack. The patients were encouraged to follow a Mediterranean-style diet, and some of the patients were also given 1,000 mg of fish oil supplements daily.
During the next three and a half years, patients taking the fish oil capsules were significantly less likely to die from any cause, with the benefits appearing after just three months of supplementation. After four months, patients taking the fish oil capsules had a 53-percent lower overall risk of death, mostly related to a reduction in sudden cardiac death.
Daily dosage: 3,000 to 5,000 mg daily.
8. Take magnesium
Magnesium is a key electrolyte–one of the minerals that regulate heart rhythm. Low levels of magnesium increase the risk of arrhythmias (erratic heartbeats that can lead to a heart attack). In a study conducted at the University of Rome, researchers found that magnesium supplements slashed the risk of atrial fibrillation (a type of arrhythmia) after heart bypass surgery.
Daily dosage: 400 mg daily.
9. Be more physically active
Unless you already exercise regularly, odds are that you dread the “E” word. Exercise builds muscle and reduces fat, but it also does a lot more. Researchers have found that exercise modifies the behaviour of genes in health-promoting ways. For example, exercise turns on our FAT/CD36 and ADRB2 genes, which increase the burning of fats.
And Do a Little Less
10. Learn to unwind
Stress can shatter even the best eating habits. It also boosts levels of the hormones cortisol and insulin, which wreak havoc with blood sugar levels and make you hungry and fat. If you can’t avoid stressful situations, learn ways to reduce your stress responses. Talking with friends or a counsellor can help; so can massage, meditation, yoga, and therapeutic-touch healing.
You don’t have to wait for a close call to start this 10-step program. Begin now and add some quality years to your life.
The Hidden Side Effects of Statins
Statins are the most widely prescribed class of cholesterol-lowering drugs. But they pose serious side effects.
One recent study confirmed that statins reduce the body’s levels of coenzyme Q10, a vitamin-like substance. Low CoQ10 levels increase the risk of cardiomyopathy and heart failure.
A second study found that statins also reduce the antioxidant activity of vitamin E by about one fifth. People taking vitamin E supplements, however, maintained their vitamin E levels.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid and Appetite Control
Alpha-lipoic acid, a vitamin-like substance, is known to improve insulin function and lower blood sugar levels. A recent animal study has found that it reduced appetite and led to weight loss.
Researchers studied how alpha-lipoic acid affected AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), an enzyme that regulates fat and glucose metabolism. When cell levels of glucose or fat drop, AMPK activity increases, leading to a sense of hunger.
In the studies, supplemental alpha-lipoic acid decreased AMPK activity, reduced appetite, and led to less body fat and overall lower body weight.