A lot of people think of heart disease as something that mostly happens to men. It’s even uncommon to see women in movies and TV shows rushed to the hospital with a heart attack. But the stats tell a different story.
The reality is, heart disease is the leading killer of (and one of the leading causes of disability in) women in the U.S. — it affects more women than breast cancer. But there are some natural ways you can prevent heart disease. We chatted with Sherry Torkos, author, pharmacist and certified fitness instructor, to find out what we can do to protect ourselves from this silent killer.
According to Torkos, “the main concern with conventional medicine is that it often relies only on the use of prescription drugs. Drugs can only do so much,” she continues, “they can’t compensate for poor lifestyle choices like eating the wrong foods, not exercising, being stressed out and not getting a enough sleep.”
Heart-healthy super foods
We all know a proper diet low in fat and high in lean protein, complex carbs and fruits and veggies is important. As is getting at least an hour of exercise most days each week. But there’s more to heart health than just the food pyramid we all learned in school. Certain foods can aid in lowering your risk for heart disease.
Torkos says berries are high in many vitamins (especially C and E), fiber and antioxidants. The anthocyanins they contain improve the support structures of blood vessels, reduce the stickiness of platelets that play a key role in clot formation, raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels and inhibit free-radical damage and inflammation.
Beans & legumes
Beans and legumes are a good source of protein, complex carbs and vitamin B12. In one study, they found that consuming legumes four times or more a week led to a 22 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease and an 11 percent lower risk of all forms of heart disease.
Fish provides omega-3 fatty acids and is good for people who have heart disease and those who are at high risk. These acids decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias), which can lead to sudden death. They also slow the growth-rate of certain types of plaque, reduce the risk of blood clots and have a modest effect on lowering blood pressure.
If you don’t like fish, you can try fish oil supplements. But it’s important to find a cold-pressed oil made by a reputable company that screens for potential toxins (like mercury).
Oats are another favorite of Torkos’. They provide more soluble fiber than any other grain. That fiber, called beta-glucans, has been shown to help lower cholesterol. They’re also a great source for other vitamins and minerals like manganese, selenium, vitamin B1, magnesium, phosphorus and even protein.
They’re normally served at breakfast because they’re low on the glycemic index and provide sustained energy (unlike sugary cereals). As added bonuses, they’re quick and easy and the perfect way to start a super-cold day. But you can also add them to recipes to serve for lunch or dinner. (Try using oats instead of bread crumbs in your next meatloaf!)
Supplement your heart health
In addition to these five super foods, there are many supplements you can take to aid in heart health. Fish oil, for example, has similar health benefits to eating fish. Here are some others Torkos recommends.
Malaysian palm fruit oil
This oil is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and packed with potent antioxidants like beta-carotene and tocotrienols (Vitamin E). This powerhouse can raise HDL levels, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of stroke and the damage to brain cells that happens after the stroke.
Many food companies, like Smart Balance, have switched away from hydrogenated oils in favor of palm fruit oil because it’s solid at room temperature and allows for better shelf-life without additional trans-fats.
Palm fruit oil is great for cooking, too, because it has a high smoke point (it can get really hot without smoking up the kitchen). While it can be a bit tough to find in a regular grocery store, you can find it in international and health food stores. There are also a couple of brands available on Amazon.
Coensyme Q10 is an antioxidant that helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It also supports the function of the heart muscle.
Grape seed extract
Grape seed extract is high in polyphenols, antioxidant compounds that can be found in a variety of foods. A study conducted at UC Davis found that a particular type of grape seed extract can reduce bloom pressure similarly to prescription drugs and improve your circulation and blood vessel flexibility.
It tastes a lot like cinnamon, so you can actually use it in a variety of recipes. Try it in smoothies, dips, in your morning oatmeal and more.
Aged garlic extract
Aged garlic extract can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. It also reduces inflammation and the progression of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Medical doctors vs. homeopathic doctors
If you’re interested in these kinds of preventative measures, you may be tempted to skip on a clinical doctor. But even if your insurance does cover homeopathic or naturopathic doctors, you need to make sure they’re licensed in your state and see a medical doctor regularly, preferably one who’s willing to work with a holistic practitioner to integrate natural measures with modern medical treatments.
Meet the expert
Sherry Torkos is a pharmacist, author, certified fitness instructor and health enthusiast who enjoys sharing her passion with others. Sherry graduated with honors from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science in 1992. Since that time she has been practicing holistic pharmacy in the Niagara region of Ontario. Her philosophy of practice is to integrate conventional and complementary therapies to optimize health and prevent disease. Sherry has won several national pharmacy awards for providing excellence in patient care. As a leading health expert, she has delivered hundreds of lectures to medical professionals and the public. Sherry is frequently interviewed on radio and TV talk shows throughout North America and abroad on health matters. Sherry has authored 16 books and booklets, including Saving Women’s Hearts, The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, and The Glycemic Index Made Simple.