The human heart is an amazing organ that powers us through every second of our lives. Tasked with pumping an average of 6,000 liters of blood per day through the body, the heart performs essential functions — including pumping life-giving oxygen and nutrients throughout the entire body. Oftentimes, it is only when someone experiences a heart attack or some other type of warning, such as shortness of breath or chest pain, that an individual begins to understand just how important this life-giving workhorse truly is.
Of course, one of the best ways to combat a health issue is to learn more about it, which is why February is designated as Heart Awareness Month. The medical community hopes to encourage people to take a few minutes out of their day to learn more about their heart, as well as potential heart health issues.
Cardiovascular Disease Awareness
One of the main health issues that can adversely affect the heart is cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease typically begins with a build-up of (cholesterol) plaque within artery walls. This build-up hinders the free flow of blood in the arteries. Without the ability to freely flow through arteries, sluggish blood can eventually form into blood clots. Plaque build-up in the diseased vessels and/or blood clots can eventually clog an artery to the point where little or no blood can flow at all.
It is also possible to have a structural problem within the heart anatomy that also alters blood flow. Either way, lack of proper blood flow can lead to a stroke, heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI), heart failure, and other heart-related health issues.
Coronary Artery Disease Awareness
Whereas cardiovascular disease can stem from a structural issue or a build-up of plaque, coronary heart disease focuses specifically on the build-up of plaque within the arteries. Coronary heart disease (CAD) can lead to high blood pressure since the heart must work harder to pump blood through arteries increasingly clogged with (cholesterol) plaque. This overuse of the heart weakens the heart muscle. Among other things, CAD can lead to heart failure over time or it can lead to a sudden stopping of the heart, also known as cardiac arrest.
Cholesterol and Insulin
Cholesterol gets a bad rap sometimes because it can build up to excessive levels in arteries and blood vessels. However, cholesterol is actually a vital substance the body needs in order to produce hormones, digest foods, and manufacture vitamin D. There are actually two different kinds of cholesterol:
- HDL (high-density lipoprotein)
- LDL (low-density lipoprotein)
The main thing to remember when reading the results from a cholesterol test is that HDL is good cholesterol, meaning it is beneficial to have high amounts of this cholesterol within the blood. The other, LDL, is often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol. Doctors typically look at the ratio between the two types in order to determine one’s overall cholesterol levels. Of course, if a person has low amounts of the good HDL and high amounts of the bad LDL, they are more at risk for a build-up of cholesterol in their arteries and blood vessels.
Insulin is associated with managing proper levels of glucose (sugar) within the blood. When an individual has high levels of glucose within their bloodstream, the glucose damages blood vessels. If a person becomes diabetic and needs to take insulin in order to manage their blood sugar levels, there’s a good chance some damage has already been done to their blood vessels, making them more vulnerable to heart-related health issues.
How Diet Plays a role
Of course, exercise (or lack of), can play a significant role in a person’s level of heart health, but diet can play a large role as well. Fortunately, diet is one of the main components of heart health that along with exercise, a person has some control over. Some of the beneficial things to include in a heart-healthy diet are:
- A wide variety of fruits and vegetables
- Soluble fibers such as oats and barley
- Dark chocolate!
- Red wine (one glass daily)
- Foods containing phytochemicals
- Foods rich in antioxidants
- Foods with omega 3s, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
Food items to avoid or limit include:
- Foods with partially-hydrogenated oils
- Highly processed foods containing few nutrients or phytochemicals
- Foods with high levels of carbohydrates
- Saturated Fats
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring. There are many online sites offering great tips and delicious heart-healthy recipes. If you would like to know more about keeping your heart happily pumping for a lifetime, please contact us at 570-208-2787 or email us at: email@example.com!