In our 20's we're invincible but when we turn 40, we start to feel more vulnerable, things are "changing", and we start saying things like "because I'm old." At what age do you start really thinking about your heart health? Is it when your cholesterol is finally elevated and your doctor says it's time for your Statin or when your blood pressure is finally making you dizzy and giving you headaches?
Did you know as a Naturopathic Doctor, I'm thinking of someone's cardiovascular system even as early as 10 years old! That's right! I've seen kids' cholesterol and inflammatory markers elevated due to childhood obesity. So when "should" you be thinking about your heart health? When is it time to "start" really taking notice of your lifestyle and it's impacts on your health?
IT's TODAY! It's NOW! The key to lowering your risks to anything is to be PROACTIVE. Of course, even if you have cardiovascular disease now and are on an impressive list of medications, you can still do something to prevent the progression or worsening of your condition.
This blog is to get you thinking outside the box, beyond the expected recommendation that you kind of already know.
1. Pay attention to the hormonal roller coaster.
Now, I realize the 10 year old doesn't have to think about this but I didn't want to start my list with "eat better" and "exercise." These 2 things are what I would focus on in pediatrics and it's certainly a key to longevity and the prevention of most diseases, BUT, we mustn't forget the close relationship hormones play in heart health.
Estrogen is the main female sex hormone and plays a role in protecting against cardiovascular disease in pre-menopausal women. When Estradiol, the most active form of estrogen, drops it causes LDL's to go up and HDL's to go down. Estradiol then shifts into the more weaker versions of estrogen, estrone (E1) and estriol (E3), AND progesterone also drops. Progesterone dropping in relation to the weaker estrogen will still put a women into what looks like "estrogen" dominance. Estrogen dominance is what causes the weight gain, cravings, mood swings, and metabolic issues. This in turn can cause predispositions that will increase blood pressure, blood sugar, and ultimately the risks of heart disease..
For men, testosterone also plays an intricate role in cardiovascular disease. It helps regulate cholesterol, blood sugar metabolism, and blood pressure. The blood vessels dilate by way of the production of Nitric Oxide (NO). NO is dependent on Testosterone. So a drop in testosterone can cause poor vasodilation and one of the earliest signs is Erectile Dysfunction.
Basically, as we age, our hormones will naturally drop and thus increase our risks for cardiovascular disease. This is an argument for Hormone Replacement Therapy but there are other ways to keep your hormones in balance as they decline. Interestingly, the things that we can do to balance hormones will also help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. I will list out some of those items below.
2. Stress Management
Stress causes an increase in cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinphrine. These chemical messengers dump glucose into the blood stream to feed muscles for running fast, vasodilates blood vessels to increase blood flow to vital organs for survival, and a whole slew of other things for survival, like stealing nutrients from your sex hormones. But what happens with long term stress responses? You get high blood pressure, blood sugar issues, an increase in abdominal fat, and an elevation in lipids; all things that put you in the fast lane to heart disease.
Things to manage stress are:
a. Take time out for yourself, even if it's 10-20 minutes a day. This is uninterrupted time for you. This can be playing with your kids but be 100% present and make it FUN. Laugh or meditate. The point is...make it "stress" free and something that feeds YOUR soul.
b. Here it is people...I'm finally saying it....EXERCISE. The benefits of exercise are endless and can have it's own bullet point within this blog. I've intentionally put it under stress management to not only go against that grain and prevent the eye rolling moment of , "here we go again, another doctor saying to exercise and eat better" when it comes to cholesterol. We say it because it's absolutely true but think of it as an outlet. A way to rejuvenate and decompress from your day.
c. Readjust how you approach various aspects in life. Are you a "yes" person to everything, over committing your time in order to be the hero? Do you find that running around taking your kids to and from x,y, and z can be draining and sometimes a contributing factor to stress? How can you re-frame your thinking? What ways can you make various aspects in your life less stressful? Re-evaluating our perspective in various situations or behaviors that can be contributing to our risk factors for dis-ease is really important. Example, I was just talking to a buddy who has to work really hard in the morning and afternoon because he picks up his daughter from school and "has to" make sure she does her homework, etc. BUT while there are times when his daughter drives him bonkers, it's also an opportunity that he gets to spend that time with her regardless and break up his day from the mundane tasks of work.
3. Clean up your environment.
We can't live in a bubble but heavy metals and other toxic chemicals are extremely detrimental to not only our hormones, such as Xenoestrogens, but also the oxidative stress is damaging to our vascular system. A study has suggested that mercury toxicity should be evaluated in those with hypertension, coronary heart disease, cerebral vascular diseases, etc.. because of the direct correlation Mercury has on damaging our mitochondria, which is highly concentrated in our hearts, but also the oxidative damage it causes in our vascular system.
Xenoestrogens are chemicals that disrupt our hormones in a negative way. I will circle this comment back to the conversation above where I mention hormone decline and the increase in risk factors of heart health. These can be found in commercially raised meats, dry sheets, air fresheners, the list of chemicals in your personal hygiene products, artificial food additives, etc..
The main thing I will say here is to be mindful with what you expose yourself to and consider taking anti-oxidants like Resveratrol, NAC, Liposomal Glutathione, and Liposomal Vitamin C when you know you're going to swim in a toxic lake or be in an environment that is known to use a lot of chemicals.
4. Nutrition-I couldn't help myself (see title)
Fiber is something we simply don’t get enough of. It not only binds to excess cholesterol but also excess estrogen. This is important because our major avenue of elimination, aka stooling, is a major mechanism that the body uses to prevent estrogen dominance, elevated lipids, and the over abundance of environmental toxins like the one’s mentioned above.
Phytoestrogens are steroidal molecules that we get from food. Soy is the most popular food in this conversation but we must think of the soy isoflavones in the form of fermented, non-GMO soy. Other phytoestrogen foods are flax seeds, alfalfa sprouts, sesame seeds, and berries. This list isn’t all inclusive but these phytoestrogenic foods actually help to balance out hormones and not necessarily to raise estrogen specifically.
Sea salt provides minerals that are very nutritive to the nervous system, hormone regulation, and blood pressure regulation. Hypo-tension is a common issue but so is hypertension. In cases of hypertension, you don’t want too much salt. I would like to make a point that the standard American Diet which is mainly processed, packaged, and fast foods. These foods contain an obscene amount of salt far more than what you might use when cooking on your own. Sea salt sprinkled in your food is perfectly fine and actually encouraged. No salt can cause dehydration, mineral deficiencies, and hypotension, but in excess, is problematic. So here I will say balance is key.
Foods that contain chemicals that disrupt our hormones and can cause oxidative stress in our cardiovascular system are commonly seen in the “non-organic” section. I would advise the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists for your grocery shopping.
Hopefully I have given a different angle in thinking about heart health. When we hear "diet" and "exercise", just know that the benefits aren't only pertaining to cholesterol and blood pressure but also to your hormones. And as we age, hormones will drop and consequently will increase our risk of heart disease. But, by taking a multi-faceted approach to decrease your risk, this will certainly help prevent such a negative impact when that drop does occur.
If you would like guidance on how to tackle your hormones naturally, please reach out to us for more information.
Natural Practitioner, the business magazine for alternative, complementary, and integrative healthcare professionals. Volume 9, NO 1. Jan/Feb 2020. Page 8-10. Hormone Health and the Cardiovascular System, how hormone health impacts cardiovascular health, especially during the golden years and beyond. By Serena Goldstein, ND.
Testosterone and Cardiovascular Disease in Men. Paul D. Morris and Kevin S. Channer. Asian J Androl. 2012 May; 14(3): 428-435. Published online 2012 Apr 23. PMID 22522505. PMCID: PM3720171
Cardiovascular Consequences of Cortisol Excess. Judith A Whitworth, Paula M Williamson, George Mangos, and John J Kelly. Vasc health Risk Manag. 2005 Dec; 1(4): 291-299. Published online 2005 Dec. doi: 10.2147/vhrm.2005.1.4.291. PMID 17315601
Role of Mercury Toxicity in Hypertension, Cardiovascular Disease, and Stroke. Mark C. Houston MD, MS. The Journal of Clinical Hypertension/Volume 13, Issue 8. https;//doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-7176.2011.0048.x