Life. Seriously, what would we do without it?
From the moment it begins to the moment it stops, life itself is supported by one of the most fascinating structures in the human body, the heart.
Based on an average lifespan of 75 years and an average heartbeat of 72 beats per minute, the average heart, that big muscle in the middle of the chest, beats around 2,838,240,000 without ever taking a rest. Tirelessly pumping the energy we need to sustain life.
What an amazing organ!
That is why the fact that heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States shakes me to the core as a practitioner. Why is this the case?
After all, we are one of the most scientifically advanced, educated and economically savvy countries in the world. We have Rhodes scholars and Noble Prize winning scientists and researchers conducting studies and drafting pieces of literature about health, disease, medicine, you name it.
But we continue to have a staggering number of individuals affected by a diseased heart. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control & Prevention) in 2008, 631,636 people died of heart disease - that is 26% of all deaths; more than one in every four. Every year about 785,000 Americans have a first heart attack. Another 470,000 who have already had one or more heart attacks, have another.
This isn't just a tragedy of life and loss, this burden we bear as a nation also carries an extremely steep financial price. It is predicted that for 2010, heart disease will have cost the United States $316.4 billion. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications and lost productivity.
Being a Naturopathic Doctor, I am fueled to think about troubling situations like this in a very comprehensive manner.
One of our principles is that of "Identify and Treat the Cause". The body is meant to be well, to heal itself and come back into balance as needed, constantly attempting to gain homeostasis, or a state of equilibrium.
When this elegant system breaks down and disease ensues, we must ask good questions. Where are there obstacles to this process? Where are there deficiencies? Where might there be excesses? What is in the way of the body attempting to be healthy and what can we then do to remove the obstacle, to help stimulate balance throughout, and therefore health?
The conventional medical system does have offerings for this killer disease, mostly in the form of prescription medications. One to lower blood pressure, perhaps one to decrease cholesterol and maybe even one to help increase the contractility or "power" of the heart.
But still, we suffer as a nation, from this malady. As my good pharmacist friend says, "people don't have high cholesterol because they are deficient in a "statin" medication, just as they don't suffer from depression due to a deficiency in Prozac." Good point, I say!
It's an Issue of LIFE [STYLE].
In order to get and stay well and truly get to the heart of the matter in this predicament, we must look at our modern day lifestyles and understand what is contributing to this number one killer. In my opinion, heart disease is that of a lifestyle disease, or rather disconnect.
As we will see, some things are in our control and some things aren't. There are passive environmental variables, such as pollutants, electromagnetic fields, and food additives to name a few, that stress our bodies and contribute to chronic inflammation, a precursor to heart disease.
Yet the more poignant piece of the puzzle is that we fail to take charge, when it comes to factors that are within our control. We are caught in a cycle of chronic, unrelenting stress that we create for ourselves and often don't know how to undo. Relationship issues, unresolved emotional issues, financial issues pepper our daily existence and become chronic and unreeling.
This cycle of achievement and stress is often seductive, and for some, addictive.
Instead of slowing down when our energy feels tapped out, we resort to quick fixes; caffeine to speed up, alcohol to wind down, high calorie, low nutrient value comfort foods to relax.
This feels good temporarily, but eventually we end up getting stuck in a loop of peaks and troughs. We become disconnected from our selves, our health, and our bodies. In essence, we create for ourselves an overall lifestyle of survival that makes it difficult to make intelligent choices for our health, even when we know better and we ultimately wind up out of balance, and sick.
The transition to a heart-healthy lifestyle begins with tiny lifestyle steps.
Start by identifying and reducing the unrelenting chronic stress in your life. Your body produces cortisol, an inflammatory hormone, when you are stressed. With chronic stress, your body produces cortisol all the time, which causes inflammation. Counteract this by finding one moment every day to reflect, take a breath, consider what you can do to simplify. Look at quality, not quantity, and reconnect with what is important to you.
Next, start exercising. I always say consistency over intensity. Ultimately, 30 minutes of some type of aerobic style, cardiovascular exercise, five times a week would be ideal to build a healthy heart system. This can also help the body rid itself of excess cortisol, rather than storing it as belly fat.
The third step is to focus on getting enough good sleep. Sleep is where we rest, relax, and repair. You need quality sleep, but also quantity, I suggest eight hours a night so your body can have time to rejuvenate. If you have an issue with sleep, begin doing anything possible to remedy this issue. It is a must.
Restore Balance with Nutrients and Botanicals
Heart-healthy eating and supplementing with key nutrients and botanicals is a critical part of the equation to prevent disease and heal your body.
The first nutritional guideline to follow is to stay hydrated. Often when we feel hungry or tired, what we're really feeling is thirsty. Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, and add an extra 8-ounce glass of water for every caffeinated beverage or alcohol you have as these agents are dehydrating.
Next, make sure your diet, the way your nourish yourself, includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, clean seafood, legumes, and skinless lean meats and poultry. Eat organic as much as possible, and decrease your intake of foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Maintain an ideal weight for your height and frame, and limit alcohol to one drink a day.
In addition to eating well, supplement with heart healthy vitamins, minerals, and botanicals for comprehensive daily support. Antioxidants, Co-Q10, and B-complex vitamins are important. But in addition to these more commonly known nutrients, there are several effective heart-supporting botanicals, or herbs, useful in taking everyday.
Arjuna Bark contains glycosides, flavonoids, tannins, and minerals that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and lipid-lowering properties. This helps strengthen heart muscles so you can build up your energy levels and maintain healthy blood pressure. Amla is a fruit extract that helps in protecting the vulnerable cholesterol from oxidizing, while allowing healthy LDL to help produce hormones that protect the arteries.Coleus is a root extract that contains a property called forskolin that enhances the ability of the heart muscles to contract, which helps with blood vessel dilation and reduces the load on your heart.
Let's face it, we need this lovely entity called life and we need our heart healthy to support it, and all it has to offer!
So take a moment to regroup, relax, and focus. Know that with a comprehensive approach and a few lifestyle changes, and by supplementing with the right nutrients and botanicals, you can get to, and live from, the HEART of the matter in all of life.