February 24, 2012

Helpful Heart Healthy Tips

After last week’s post that touched on the cholesterol myth, I’ve received some emails and questions about heart healthy tips. I’ll start by re-posting last week’s analogy (in case you missed it) and will provide some quick tips for heart friendly health.

Cholesterol Myth

The analogy is to imagine cholesterol molecules like cars on the highway. When there is an accident the cars get backed up. Whose fault is it? The cars were just trying to go to work and do their jobs (cholesterol by the way does a number of good things and is the “parent” to important hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone). It’s not the cars fault, but the accident – the accident is like inflammation and glycation from too much sugar/glucose intake.

There’s lots of info now (and there actually has been for a long time) that there isn’t a causal connection between dietary cholesterol and heart disease etc. The purpose here isn’t to delve into this myth (the above analogy will suffice for now); so let’s get at some real tips you can use!


By the way, “starch” is a plant’s stored form of glucose (sugar). Say you eat 100 grams of carbs from pasta and 5 of those grams are fiber: it doesn’t matter if the label only says 5 grams of sugar, because your body will basically see it like 95 grams of sugar (100 minus the 5 of fiber). Managing (non-fiber) carb intake is critical. Want to know more about this crucial info? Read more about the sugar/starch and insulin response here.

Other nutritional steps to take to support a healthy heart are consuming anti-oxidants (which can fight the oxidation from lingering sugar and/or cholesterol). One of the best sources is from the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. The highest sources here are from fish, like wild salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring.


Related to the previous point, a high EPA and DHA fish oil can help. Fish oil is associated with large reductions in cardiovascular disease risk.

Other heart friendly nutrients are pantethine (active form of vitamin B5) and CoQ10. Although cholesterol may not be a bad guy, we still don’t want build-up, and pantethine can reduce this. CoQ10 is used by the body for a number of functions, but with regard to heart health it can lower blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic).


When it comes to exercise, resistance or strength training is the mode of choice. Strong muscle contractions squeeze your arteries and these workouts will actually increase (temporarily) blood pressure. However, training is just that – your body will learn how to better deal with the stress of increased blood pressure. Another bonus is that resistance training is best for insulin sensitizing your muscles (and issues with insulin management are what can lead to the backed up cholesterol traffic jams in the first place).


Stress management also plays a role: feeling stressed takes its toll on your system. Cortisol, the “chief” stress hormone, increases blood pressure (to deal with the situation). It has been said that stress is tension from resisting the way things are. So go with the flow and adopt a positive attitude and mental outlook. (Please note I’ll also be touching on some practical and effective work-life balance tips in a future post)!

Not getting enough sleep has also been shown to take its toll on your heart. Aim for at least 8 hours a night.

If you can implement even a few changes above, rest assured your heart will thank-you for it!