Preventing Heart Disease
Other Factors Linked to Heart Disease
The colorful food group referred to as carotenoids has been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease. Carotenoid foods include those rich in beta carotene, which forms vitamin A. Take the carotenoid challenge: try to choose one serving from this class of foods every day. Among your choices are cantaloupe, watermelon, apricots, mangoes, carrots, yellow peppers, red peppers, broccoli, kale, romaine lettuce, spinach, turnip greens, tomatoes, and skim milk.Vitamin B vs. Homocysteine
High blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Some B vitamins in particular vitamin B-6 and folate (also called folacin or folic acid) break down homocysteine. Some research has shown that a diet rich in B-6 and folate reduces the risk of heart disease by as much as 50 percent in some people. Good sources of vitamin B-6 include potatoes, whole grains, bananas, skinless chicken (white meat), black beans, almonds, and peanut butter. Foods rich in folate include oranges and orange juice, spinach, broccoli, beans, lentils, avocados, and nuts. Getting 200 to 400 mcg of folate per day is recommended for optimal health.Antioxidants
A diet rich in antioxidants is thought to promote good health and protect the body against age-related diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants counteract or neutralize the effects of oxidation. Oxidation occurs when a cell burns up oxygen and produces by-products called free radicals. The free radicals can damage other body cells and tissue, contributing to arteriosclerosis (clogging of arteries), heart attacks, strokes, and cancer. Although free radicals are produced naturally in the body, environmental factors such as exposure to cigarette smoke or ultraviolet light can generate more. Antioxidants put the kibosh on free radicals, rendering them harmless.
Antioxidant vitamins include beta carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E. To ensure a bountiful supply of antioxidant vitamins in your diet, eat a variety of plant foods, including whole grains, nuts, and seeds, and five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables.Vitamin E
Numerous studies have shown that vitamin E, an antioxidant, reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer. Excellent sources of vitamin E include vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, wheat germ, and peanut butter. Keep in mind that vitamin E is destroyed when heated to high temperatures, for example, when frying or stir-frying.Vitamin C
Like beta carotene and vitamin E, vitamin C is an antioxidant. While beta carotene and vitamin E destroy the free radicals in fat tissue, vitamin C zaps the free radicals in body fluid. Vitamin C also helps fight infection and helps keep capillaries (small blood vessels) and gums healthy.
The average adult needs at least 60 mg of vitamin C per day. One medium orange or 3/4 cup of orange juice will supply that much. Pregnant women should try to get 70 mg and, when breastfeeding, 90 to 95 mg. Because of the damaging effects of smoking, people who smoke cigarettes are advised to get at least 100 mg of vitamin C per day. For antioxidant purposes, doses ranging from 200 to 400 mg have been recommended. The body excretes any excess vitamin C through urine.
High doses of vitamin C (several grams per day) have been associated with diarrhea and kidney stones.Phytochemicals
There is an association between a person's intake of fruits and vegetables and his or her risk of heart disease: the higher the intake, the lower the risk. Researchers believe some naturally occurring compounds and substances abundant in plant foods (phytochemicals) play an important role in heart disease risk reduction. The same level of benefit is not always present when vitamin and mineral supplements take the place of fruits and vegetables.
To ensure maximum heart benefits, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Aim for a minimum of five a day.Hormone Replacement Therapy
The risk for heart disease rises rapidly in women following menopause. Women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have lower LDL cholesterol levels, higher HDL cholesterol levels, and a significantly lower risk of heart disease. If you are a woman who has reached menopause, discuss HRT with your physician.Aspirin
Aspirin helps inhibit the formation of blood clots. Since many heart attacks and strokes result from a blood clot in a blocked or narrowed artery, aspirin has a therapeutic role in the prevention and management of heart disease.
In the last decade, aspirin therapy has played an important role in the prevention of recurrent angina (chronic chest pains), heart attacks and strokes. Aspirin therapy also appears to have significant benefits if used within the 24 hours following a heart attack. The American Heart Association suggests that aspirin "should be administered routinely to virtually all patients" having a heart attack.
Whether or not aspirin plays a significant role in the prevention of a first heart attack or stroke is under study.
As with all medications, aspirin is associated with certain risks as well as benefits. The American Heart Association warns people to consult with their doctors before taking aspirin on a long-term basis.Anger
An association exists between higher levels of anger and a higher risk of heart disease. A Boston study of 1,305 older men revealed that men who were irritable, hotheaded, and often felt like smashing things had three times the risk of heart disease than their mellower, less angry counterparts.
Expressions of anger have also been linked to a higher incidence of stroke. A researcher at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, Ann Arbor, studied how 2,110 middle-aged men expressed anger. The study revealed that men who "blew up" were twice as likely to have strokes than men who were skilled at diffusing their anger.Stress
When we experience stress, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are secreted into our bodies to help us cope. Prolonged, chronic stress results in an overexposure to these hormones. Over time, prolonged exposure to elevated stress hormone levels can be harmful to our health. Chronic stress can adversely affect blood pressure, heart health, memory, and the immune system.
Everyday stressors include time crunches, traffic jams, job stress and family pressures. To combat chronic stress, get plenty of exercise (at least 30 minutes most days), get seven to eight hours of sleep per night, and, if you smoke, quit the habit.
Another effective stress-buster is making sure you set aside some time each day to nurture yourself. Do things you like to do: read a book, listen to music, meditate, garden, or paint a picture.
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