One of the most important factors for lifelong good health is a strong, disease-free heart. The good news is that there are many natural ways you can ensure you have a healthy heart for life.
First, let’s take a look at heart disease. The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease (CHD), also known as coronary artery disease (CAD). In this condition, the coronary arteries that transport blood to the heart are narrowed or blocked by a buildup of fatty material known as plaque. These blockages can cause chest pain, or worse, a heart attack.1
Too much fat and cholesterol in the blood can form plaque deposits. Plaque can also be caused by high blood pressure, smoking, and diabetes.1
Heart disease isn’t inevitable, and it isn’t something you necessarily have to take medication to prevent. Here are some steps you can take to protect your heart from disease naturally.
Diet is one of the most important factors in preventing heart disease naturally. A diet high in sodium and certain types of fats can send your blood pressure and cholesterol levels skyrocketing.2
When planning your meals, choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and added sugars. Try to avoid sugary beverages and limit red meat and high-fat dairy products. If you do choose to eat red meat, make it as lean as possible.3
Some good foods to consume for heart health include fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds.3 Try to eat oily fish like salmon and tuna, which are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, at least twice a week.4 And when using oils for cooking, go for monounsaturated varieties like olive, canola, safflower, sesame, and peanut oils.5
Evidence is mixed on whether alcohol is really good for your heart. Some studies show the polyphenols in red wine can prevent cardiovascular disease and reduce blood pressure levels in patients with hypertension.6 But excessive alcohol consumption has been linked with elevated triglyceride levels and increased risk of heart disease.1,7
Health professionals generally recommend that people limit their alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.1 As for polyphenols, they can be found in food sources such as grapes, red grape juice, blueberries,7 and in powdered fruit extracts such as grape seed, blueberry, and pomegranate extracts.
If you’re a smoker, there are many reasons your doctor is always after you to quit. In addition to the obvious benefits to your respiratory system, quitting smoking can help protect your heart.2,3
Smoking damages the circulatory system, leading to hardening of the arteries and an increased risk of blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. Smoking also reduces the level of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, in your blood.2
The heart benefits from quitting smoking are almost immediate. Within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. Twelve hours later the carbon monoxide levels in your blood drop to normal. Between 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting, your circulation improves. And within a year, your heart attack risk drops dramatically.8
Even if you don’t smoke, you need to be careful to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, which can cause serious health problems. According to a U.S. Surgeon General report, if a nonsmoker is exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work, they are up to 30% more likely to develop heart disease or lung cancer.3
High blood pressure, defined as a reading above 120/80, puts a strain on the heart, arteries, and kidneys and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Because there are no outward symptoms of hypertension, it is essential to get regular checks.2
If you do have high blood pressure, you can take the following steps to manage it:
There are a few natural supplements that have shown promise in bringing down blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids enhance cardiovascular tone and have been associated in studies with a relatively small but significant reduction in blood pressure.9
A review of seven garlic studies concluded that garlic significantly lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.10 Also, as mentioned earlier, red wine polyphenols have shown some promise in lowering blood pressure in hypertensive patients.6
An analysis of several studies connected potassium supplements with reduced blood pressure in unmedicated patients and noted that the effect was significant in patients with hypertension.11 And in an analysis of CoQ10 studies, the enzyme was found to have the potential to significantly lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure without side effects.12
In another study, patients with nighttime hypertension were found to benefit from the addition of a melatonin supplement taken just before bedtime.13
The body gets energy from food by breaking it down into glucose, or blood sugar. When the body’s blood sugar levels run too high, this can lead to diabetes, which in turn can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The recommended fasting blood sugar level is below 100. The quickest way to reduce blood sugar is to lower your consumption of added sugars by restricting sugar-laden beverages, candy, and desserts. Regular exercise can also help regulate blood sugar levels.2