The title to this article brought to mind the undeniable truth in the fact that people generally care more for the health of their car than they do for themselves… (Heidi’s opinion above)
By Steven Masley, MD, Special to Everyday Health.
As a resident and then physician, I volunteered in more than fifteen impoverished countries. Most people in the underdeveloped world by necessity had to be fit and to eat unprocessed food. In fact, I was shocked to realize that despite their difficult living conditions, if they weren’t starving, they usually enjoyed better heart health than most of my patients back home. They were trimmer, fitter and had fewer joint problems. They also had better blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure control.
Why are Americans cardiovascular “wrecks” compared to people in other countries? Why does cardiovascular disease remain our No. 1 killer today — accounting for more deaths than all forms of cancer combined? The answer is simple — our lifestyle is killing us! Our diets rich in trans and saturated fats and sugar and low in nutrients and fiber, our lack of exercise, our stressed-out lives that leave little time for rest and reflection all contribute to the cardiovascular disease epidemic in the US.
How Your Heart Ages
The first step to avoiding heart disease is understanding how your heart and arteries age. Here’s why: The factor that causes most heart problems is not cholesterol, but the growth of plaque in your arteries. Newly-formed, soft plaque can coat the lining of the arteries and mound up like pimples. These lesions can pop into the bloodstream. The inflammatory chemicals released from this rupture cause large blood clots to form. These travel to the heart and brain, blocking the supply of oxygen which leads to a heart attack, stroke, or sudden death.
To determine your heart’s true age, we need to look at the growth of plaque. That is simple and safe to do with ultrasound equipment similar to what monitors a fetus. This new carotid intimal-medial thickness testing (carotid IMT) calculates arterial plaque growth. It reliably estimates my patients’ arterial age.
The carotid arteries carry blood from the heart to the brain. Research has shown that more than 90 percent of the time, the carotid and coronary arteries grow plaque at the same rate. The thickness of plaque in the carotid artery reflects growth in the arteries that feed the heart. Carotid IMT is an excellent predictor of risk for future cardiovascular events.
To receive a carotid IMT test, my patient lies on an exam table. I apply warm ultrasound gel on his neck. I gently pass a measuring device from the machine over the skin and take pictures of the carotid arteries, just beneath the surface. I transfer the images to my computer, enlarge them, and use software to measure the plaque thickness accurate to hundredths of millimeters.
Studies in major medical journals have determined average plaque thickness in thousands of men and women. So once I’ve calculated my patient’s score, I use these figures to project his arteries’ average age. A 50-year-old man, for instance, might have the plaque of a 40-, 50-, or 60-year-old . . . or even older
How to Tune Up Your Heart
In my new book, The 30-Day Heart Tune-Up, I explain how to shrink plaque, improve circulation, and strengthen your heartbeat.
Here are your tools to accomplish these goals:
- Incorporate five heart healing foods into your diet:
- Fiber: You need 30 grams a day from fruits, veggies, beans and nuts.
- Healthy fats: Substitute saturated and trans fats with olive and almond oils, avocados, omega-3 eggs. Eat cold water, small-mouth fish 3 times a week (or take a fish oil supplement).
- Lean protein: Eat free-range grass fed meats and poultry, low mercury seafood, beans, protein powder, tofu, plain nonfat yogurt.
- Beneficial beverages: Drink green tea, hot cocoa, red wine!
- Fabulous flavors: Use herbs and spices, garlic, dark chocolate
- Aerobic and weight-training exercise strengthens your heart and arteries. Exercise not only burns fat, it also improves blood sugar control, lowers inflammation, improves your cholesterol profile, reduces stress and builds stamina.
- Manage your stress: Stress-induced spasms in coronary arteries can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or sudden death. Reduce stress by:
- Getting plenty of good quality sleep
- Engaging in moments of peace and meditation
- Enjoying loving relationships including sex, if possible
Follow a customized supplement plan that includes:
- 400 mg of magnesium
- 12-15 mg of zinc
- fish oil.
By taking these steps you can tune up your own heart for a healthier future.