The epidemic of heart disease in our nation today is devastating. The health of our diet and lifestyle directly affects our blood quality, affecting the health of the blood vessels and the heart. According to the 2010 CDC mortality tables, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. However, the good news is that heart and blood vessel disease are not inevitable; in fact, they are absolutely preventable in most cases. The health of your blood and blood vessels is influenced daily by your dietary and lifestyle choices.

When discussing heart disease, one must first consider the role of the blood vessels in the heart and in the entire body. Blood vessels carry oxygen-rich blood, nutrients, minerals, and vitamins to all areas and organs in the body. Vessels that carry blood away from the heart are arteries, and vessels that bring blood from the organs to the heart are called veins.

Endothelial cells are comprised of three layers and are the cells that line all blood vessels. These cells ultimately determine cardiovascular health. They play a role in immune function, have a complex clotting system, act as selective filters, and regulate the passage of gases, fluid, and various molecules across their membrane. For example, white blood cells travel through the blood stream and endothelial cells facilitate their passage into your body’s tissue, allowing them to destroy foreign agents.

When these cells are damaged by factors such as free radical activity, it can signal inflammation in the body. When free radical activity goes up, it may result in the oxidation of circulatory fats (LDL) which is commonly known as ‘bad cholesterol.' When LDL becomes oxidized, it may cause fat deposition in the arterial walls as the blood vessels try to repair themselves. This initial stage of fat deposits on the vessel wall becomes plaque over time, which in turn can harden and create blockage.

When plaque builds, it thickens artery walls and creates a bottleneck condition known as atherosclerosis. This condition makes it very difficult for red blood cells to navigate the once freely flowing arteries. This in turn slows down the delivery of oxygen and other essential nutrients to the organs of the body. Atherosclerosis involves the thickening and narrowing of our blood vessels that occur in most people, but with certain risk factors, it can progress very rapidly and lead to early demise. Atherosclerosis commonly affects the coronary arteries, which deliver blood to the heart muscle itself, resulting in heart attacks and/or strokes.

Risk factors that increase chances of plaque build up in the blood vessels include smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, hypertension, increased blood fat content, diabetes, and chronic stress. Sadly, in today's society, the initiation of the atherosclerotic process can occur early in life. Research indicates that 1 in 6 American teenagers already has thickening in their coronary arteries. This speaks volumes about how the current ‘standard American diet' is creating havoc on the health of the nation.

 

Lifestyle suggestions to improve cardiovascular health:

  • Exercise!
  • Avoid allergens that cause inflammation (food allergies as well as airborne allergens)
  • Stress management: Breath work, yin yoga, meditation
  • Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke

 

Dietary suggestions to improve cardiovascular health:

  • Dark leafy greens such as kale, broccoli sprouts, spinach, and collards help detox the bloodstream.
  • Garlic: is a powerful anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, anti-bacterial food.
  • Green tea and dandelion tea
  • Walnuts: help regulate blood sugar and are a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Maitake mushrooms: increase immune function as well as increase excretion of cholesterol in stool.
  • Increase anti-oxidants: Raw cacao, acai berry, blueberries, prunes, pomegranates, kale, brussel sprouts, beets, and red bell peppers.
  • Increase nutrients that support healthy fat metabolism such as coconut oil, leeks, green onions, and radish. The sulfur compounds in onions help to maintain platelet aggregation, blood pressure, and total cholesterol.
  • Add in more fiber: Beans, peas and legumes are important complex carbohydrates that stabilize blood sugar.
  • Decrease saturated fats: Animal fat, as well as hydrogenated fats and oils.
  • Increase unsaturated fats: Olive oil, hemp oil, high-lignan flax oil, salmon, and sardines.
  • Ginger: Helps balance blood viscosity.
  • Turmeric: Contains curcumin, which reduces inflammation.

Vibrant Turmeric and Ginger Tea

1 teaspoon of turmeric and 1 teaspoon of ginger powder. Add boiling water and let steep 8 to 10 minutes. Add honey to taste and a slice of lemon. The honey and lemon will make the tea a bit more palatable.

 

by Emily Potter