By Sarena-Rae Santos, Contributing Writer
Heart health is an important topic for me. After I had covid in September 2021, my overall health declined. I had an auto-immune disease and was lucky to live through nearly a month of severe illness, followed by long-haul covid. My long-haul covid symptoms included fatigue, irregular menstrual cycles, cognitive impairment, respiratory decline, and heart health deterioration.
Not to mention, heart disease runs in my family, and I have a 79% increased likelihood of hypertension, according to my genetic results. So, of course, I dug even deeper into how I could control my heart health.
Pre-covid, I was pretty healthy despite a long list of illnesses I had overcome. My lifestyle was filled with healthier choices influencing my health. I genuinely believe this affected my ability to survive covid and manage my dreadful symptoms at home, naturally. For nearly a year after covid, my Apple Watch recorded my resting heart rate as low as 40 BPM with a heart variable in the teens. So, I made some changes and will share them with you today.
What Is Heart Disease?
The heart beats about 2.5 billion times in the average lifetime and pushes millions of gallons of blood to every body part. As the heart moves blood throughout the body, it carries oxygen, fuel, hormones, and other essential compounds for everyday living (1).
When the heart stops working correctly, we often hear the diagnosis of heart disease. Heart disease usually refers to several heart conditions associated with their own set of symptoms (2).
Types of Heart Disease:
- Coronary artery disease
- Congenital heart defect
- Heart valve disease
- A disease of the heart muscle
- Heart infection
Sometimes the blood supply that normally nourishes the heart with oxygen is cut off, and the heart muscle begins to die; this is called a heart attack (3). The most common cause of a heart attack is plaque buildup in the arteries, also known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis prevents blood from reaching the heart muscle. Heart attacks can also be caused by blood clots or torn blood vessels and, less commonly, from a blood vessel spasm (4).
“It’s estimated that every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack (5).“
Causes of Heart Disease (8):
- Coronary artery disease
- Drug abuse
- Excessive use of alcohol or caffeine
- Heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects)
- High blood pressure
- Some over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, dietary supplements
- Valvular heart disease
Risk Factors For Heart Disease (9):
- Ages 65+
- Being male
- Family history
- Being African-American, Mexican-American, American Indian, Asian-American, or native Hawaiian–partly due to familial lifestyles and cuisines.
One similarity between nearly all of these is the ability to prevent them. Of course, heart disease can be caused by genetic and lifestyle factors, but our genetics load the gun while our lifestyle choices pull the trigger.
Know Your Numbers, And Keep Them In Check
Knowing your numbers means knowing and understanding your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. These are known as metabolic factors. Studies have observed metabolic factors of cardiovascular disease, including diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia (low high‐density lipoprotein cholesterol or high triglyceride levels), and hypercholesterolemia (high total or low‐density lipoprotein cholesterol) (10). Healthy numbers signify a healthy heart.
Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers-systolic blood pressure (the first number) and diastolic blood pressure (the second number). Systolic blood pressure indicates how much pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls when the heart beats. Diastolic blood pressure indicates how much pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls while the heart rests between beats.
Standard blood pressure numbers of less than 120/80 mm Hg are considered within the normal range. If your results fall into this category, stick with heart-healthy habits like following a balanced diet and regular exercise (11).
Blood sugar, or glucose, is the primary sugar found in the blood. The body gets glucose from the food we eat. This sugar is an essential energy source and provides nutrients to the body’s organs, muscles, and nervous system. The absorption, storage, and production of glucose are regulated constantly by complex processes involving the small intestine, liver, and pancreas. 80 to 99 milligrams of sugar per deciliter before and 80 to 140 mg/dl after a meal is typical (12).
Cholesterol comes from two sources. Your liver makes all the cholesterol you need. The remainder of the cholesterol in your body comes from food. For example, meat, poultry, and dairy products contain dietary cholesterol. Cholesterol circulates in the blood. According to the mainstream, as the amount of cholesterol in your blood increases, so does the risk to your health. High cholesterol contributes to a higher risk of cardiovascular events like heart disease and stroke.
The mainstream says there are two types of cholesterol; LDL cholesterol, which is bad, and good, HDL. Too much of the bad kind, or not enough of the good kind, increases the risk of cholesterol slowly building up in the artery’s inner walls responsible for feeding the heart and brain. The average LDL level for an adult man or woman is less than 100mg/dL. The average HDL level for an adult man is more than 40mg/dL and 50mg/dL for a woman (13).
On the contrary, other experts find this controversial. One review of 72 studies of nearly 600,000 people found no connection between total or saturated fat and heart disease. Instead, they discovered trans fats to be damaging while omega-3 fats were beneficial (14). So maybe what we’ve been told has been wrong all along.
Triglycerides are not cholesterol but part of a lipoprotein panel (the test that measures cholesterol levels). Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) found in your blood. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn’t need to use right away into triglycerides. The triglycerides are stored in your fat cells. Later, hormones release triglycerides for energy between meals. A normal triglyceride level is below 150 mg/dL (15).
Supporting Heart Health Naturally
There are so many factors to consider when supporting heart health. Of course, not every option is possible for everyone, which is okay. Understanding moderation and taking steps to better your lifestyle choices is the best any of us can do. None of us are perfect; that’s what makes us human. Here is a starting point to supporting heart health naturally. These are the things I’ve found beneficial in my heart health recovery, backed by science.
1. Choosing Real Food
Choosing real foods means choosing heart-healthy foods. It means restricting or limiting certain foods to avoid health deterioration. Appropriate food choices are crucial steps in attaining optimal heart health. Let’s dig deeper into what I mean.
Choose Whole Foods
Whole foods include natural foods that are not heavily processed. Natural food products are real, unrefined, or minimally refined (i.e., whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes). For some, this may include meat and dairy; if that’s the case, stick to pasture-raised organic meats and raw dairy. I choose plant-based, whole foods because a plant-based diet can be good for your heart. There are several types of plant-based lifestyles, but not all of them are healthy. To learn the benefits of adopting a plant-based lifestyle, check out my article Why Adopt A Plant-Based Lifestyle, here.
“If you’re eating mostly or only fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, and meat substitutes… you may cut your odds of getting heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, compared to a diet that includes a lot more meat (16).”
Some tips when choosing whole foods include:
- Choose unprocessed, high-quality salt such as sea salt or pink salt.
- Avoid unhealthy saturated fats
- Avoid processed food
- Avoid fast food
Choose Heart-Healthy Foods
There’s so much controversy over heart-healthy foods. One source says to avoid eggs, while the next states to eat them frequently. Some older studies back this up, but eggs are not as heart-healthy as we once thought. Recent studies have found eggs to increase the risk of coronary artery calcium scores, a measure of heart disease risk, an increased risk of obesity and diabetes, and hypertension (17,18).
So why does the American Heart Association have nearly 40 recipes on their “Healthy Recipe” tab with egg ingredients?
Maybe it has something to do with Eggland’s Best being one of the American Heart Association’s proud national supporters, which means the American Heart Association is in their pockets (19).
If you’re looking for actual heart-healthy foods, aside from good old fruits and vegetables, try some of these options:
- Dark Chocolate (learn more here)
- Whole wheat
- Brown & wild rice
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- Pinto beans
- Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
- Navy beans
- Cannellini beans
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
Looking for healthful recipes? You can find plenty of recipes in Earthley’s free Nourished Living Cookbook.
2. Choosing Healthful Drinks
Although food is probably the most crucial step to optimal heart health, drink choices are presumably the second most influential. It’s important to remember that everything we consume should be a way to nourish the body. Everything we consume either fights disease or feeds it! So what drink choices are best?
Our body comprises about 60% water; every cell and organ needs water to function correctly, especially the heart. The heart is constantly working as it’s responsible for pumping about 2,000 gallons of blood daily; water helps this essential organ function properly. On average, a woman needs about 11 cups of water daily, and men need about 15.5 cups daily (20).
A cup of tea a day could help keep the doctor away and even increase your lifespan! According to research, drinking three or more cups of tea a week can lead to improved cardiovascular health and longer life. Green tea is most beneficial due to its polyphenol power, as polyphenols are known to improve the function of the blood vessels, increase good cholesterol, and even reduce inflammation (21).
Higher consumption of coffee – caffeinated and decaf alike – was associated with a lower risk of total mortality, including deaths attributed to heart disease, nervous system diseases, and suicide? Better yet, and more specifically, everyday coffee drinking has been linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease in women (22).
Red wine, in moderation, has been thought of as heart-healthy. Although the link between red wine and fewer heart attacks isn’t completely understood, it may be because there are antioxidants in red wine. Antioxidants provide the benefit of increased levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol, which protects against cholesterol build-up (23).
Although it’s not recommended that you start drinking alcohol for heart benefits because too much can be detrimental to your health, it is excellent to know that if you enjoy a glass of red wine with your dinner, it appears to help your heart’s health. A safe rule of measure for alcohol consumption is up to ONE drink per day for women and TWO drinks for men.
3. Get Adequate Sleep
Most adults need 7 hours of sleep each night, but most report not getting that! Better yet, did you know those who get less than 7 hours of sleep each night are more likely to have health problems like heart attack, asthma, and depression? Actually, insomnia is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease (24).
Sleep doesn’t come easy for some people. I’ve found this is most common in people who are deficient in magnesium. Magnesium performs over 300 essential functions in the body! Most people are low, leading to many common health issues like sleepless nights, headaches, restless legs, constipation, anxiety, depression, and more. Don’t cover up the symptoms with OTC meds with nasty side effects. Instead, address the root issue and care for your body naturally with something like Earthley’s Sleepy Time or Good Night Lotion.
Most people don’t know this and are quick to grab melatonin, which may be natural to our body, but the pills found in the stores are synthetic and loaded with fillers. Melatonin is a hormone that our bodies naturally produce. If you genuinely need additional melatonin, try finding it in natural food sources like:
- Tart cherries
- Goji berries
- Bananas (25)
If you struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep, I highly recommend Earthley’s The Secret to a Good Night’s Sleep guide.
Keep it moving to keep your heart rate going. Exercise comes in many forms; even doing simple household chores can set the mark for exercising. But remember, the benefits of physical activity depend on the intensity, duration, and frequency of the physical activity. You absolutely cannot exercise once a week and expect to see a difference.
“In a report that included findings from multiple well-done studies, researchers found that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31% cut the risk of dying by 32%. These benefits were equally robust in men and women. Protection was evident even at distances of just 5½ miles per week and at a pace as casual as about 2 miles per hour. The people who walked longer distances walked at a faster pace, or both enjoyed the greatest protection (26).“
Some of my exercise suggestions include:
Yoga is said to have many benefits for heart health. Why is that? Yoga is a stress outlet and a way to exercise and boost heart health. It’s said that practicing yoga may help lower blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood glucose levels.
“A large number of studies show that yoga benefits many aspects of cardiovascular health (27).“
You can find my top ten favorite yoga poses here.
Take The Stairs
There are a few reasons why you should take the stairs when you have the option to. For instance:
- Stair climbing burns more calories than jogging does.
- Stair climbing reduces your risk of stroke, according to one study.
- Stair climbing improves cardiovascular fitness and can help prevent cardiovascular disease.
- Stair climbing strengthens your leg muscles (28).
Dance To Music
An Australian study of 48,000 people found that moderate-intensity dancing is linked to a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. In this study, dancers were found to have a 46 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who rarely ever danced (29).
Step Up Your Housework
A study done in 2013 found that people who achieve total physical activity levels several times higher than the current recommended minimum level significantly reduce the risk of several diseases that researchers studied, including heart disease and stroke (30).
Physical activity was defined in this study as beneficial to heart health were:
- Recreational physical activity
- Transportation physical activity
- Household chores, physical activity
- Occupational and physical activity
So next time you’re doing some household chores, step up your game, put some music on to dance and get the full health-hearty effect of cleaning, plus a clean home.
5. Practice Self Care
According to Oxford Languages, self-care is taking measures to maintain or improve one’s health, well-being, and happiness. Self-care is critical during periods of stress. Periods of stress may contribute to a weakened immune system. Some heart-healthy forms of self-care you can practice include:
Meditation activates your body’s “rest-and-digest” functions, which counteracts its “fight-or-flight” responses. Daily mindful meditation has been linked to lowering heart rate and blood pressure, which may reduce your risk of heart disease (31).
To learn how to meditate, click here.
Brush Your Teeth
Brushing your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. In a study conducted where researchers asked 682 people about their toothbrushing habits, they found that those who brushed their teeth less than twice a day for less than two minutes had an increased risk of having or dying from a heart attack or heart failure, or stroke by three-fold.
“Poor oral health, based on daily teeth-brushing behavior, is associated with poorer heart health (32).“
Have A Skin-Care Routine
Researchers believe that moisturized skin might prevent age-related ailments, including heart disease. A study of 33 older adults (58-95 years old) had participants moisturize their bodies twice a day. After one month, they measured their blood levels of 3 cytokines; they found that those who used the lotion had levels nearly equivalent to people in their 30s (33).
If that’s the case, imagine what can happen if you adopt an entire skin-care routine!
Laughter triggers a chemical response in the brain that leads to pleasure and a sense of well-being; this allows the arteries to respond healthily, improving blood flow and long-term health. At the University of Texas, researchers asked 17 healthy adults to watch a humorous 30-minute video of their choice. They did before and after tests of blood flow. They found the most significant difference in artery function measurements as they improved immediately and remained steady for almost 24 hours (34).
In other words, the saying is true; laughter is the best medicine.
6. Avoid Pharmaceuticals
Pharmaceuticals are often handed out like candy. Every year in the U.S., more than 4 billion prescriptions are administered. The number of retail drugs filled every year is expected to increase by 2024 substantially.
Data indicates that the average person takes four prescription medications. More than 131 million Americans take at least one prescription medication. In 2015, the U.S. consumed about 30% of the world’s supply of opioids. In 2019, The United States spent $511 billion on medicines. In 2021, about 66% of U.S. adults were expected to take prescription drugs (35).
Some drugs classes that can cause or exacerbate heart failure include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Diabetes mellitus medications
- Dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors
- Antiarrhythmic medications
- Antihypertensive medications
- Calcium channel blockers
- Peripheral vasodilators
- Anti-infective medications
- Anticancer medications
For a complete list of drugs that cause or exacerbate heart failure, click here.
This list isn’t even considering the thousands upon thousands of reports from the recent covid vaccine causing myocarditis, pericarditis, and other heart conditions.
7. Choose Herbal Supplementation
Herbal medicine dates back more than 5,000 years (36), so why wouldn’t we trust herbal supplementation to support heart health? I recommend the following herbs:
Hawthorn berries are tiny fruits that grow on trees and shrubs of the Crataegus genus. Hawthorn berries are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Traditional Chinese Medicine has used hawthorn berries as an herbal remedy for digestive problems, heart failure, and high blood pressure. Several animal studies have shown that hawthorn berries can act as vasodilators, relaxing and constricting blood vessels and lowering blood pressure (37). In a 16-week human study, 79 people with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure took 1,200 mg of hawthorn extract daily, resulting in significant improvements in their blood pressure compared to those in the placebo group (38).
Learn more about hawthorn berries here.
Turmeric, a relative of ginger, has compounds called curcuminoids (curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric) and is known for its medicinal properties that have been used in India for thousands of years (39). Curcumin is important for heart health. Along with its ability to reduce inflammation (40), it is also helpful in lowering blood pressure by improving the health of the vascular system in the body (41).
Learn more about turmeric here.
Amla berry or Indian Gooseberry has several culinary and herbal medicine uses. Amla’s antioxidant properties may protect against oxidative damage from heart injury (42). The anti-inflammatory properties can significantly reduce inflammation, which is considered a critical element in the development of heart disease (43). Additionally, amla berry can lower blood pressure (44), normalize blood fat levels (45), and has an anti-platelet effect (46).
There are two main types of cinnamon: Ceylon and Cassia. Cassia is what you find in the store, but Ceylon is the true cinnamon from a small tree native to Sri Lanka (47). Always choose Ceylon when you can. Ceylon cinnamon has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (48,49). Ceylon cinnamon may cut the risk of heart disease due to its ability to reduce levels of bad cholesterol (50), increase levels of good cholesterol (51), and lower blood pressure (52).
Reishi mushroom is known for its variety of potential health benefits in eastern medicine. Reishi mushrooms are an adaptogenic herb with anti-cancer properties that can boost your immune system while fighting fatigue and depression. Additionally, reishi mushrooms can help control blood sugar (53) while increasing good cholesterol and decreasing triglycerides (54).
Learn more about Reishi mushrooms here.
Cayenne pepper or Capsicum annuum is a chili pepper belonging to the nightshade family. Cayenne peppers have a moderately hot, spicy flavor stemming from a compound called capsaicin (55). Capsaicin may help reduce inflammation and oxidative damage, helping protect against certain health conditions, including heart disease (56). One study associated the consumption of chili peppers, such as cayenne pepper, with a lower risk of death from heart disease (57).
The great news is that you don’t have to take six different herbal supplements. Earthley’s Healthy Heart has all these ingredients in a tincture that helped me normalize my heart problems post-covid. This herbal supplement supports the heart and a proper immune response. This tincture is rich in anti-inflammatory properties and vitamin C. It can help lower blood sugar and blood pressure, increase insulin activity, and can even help with symptoms of type 2 diabetes. Naturally, nourish your heart and body with the power of herbs!
Additionally, Earthley’s Nourish Him Naturally has two of these heart-supporting herbs. This tincture is curated with a man’s specific needs in mind! The herbs support heart, prostate health, and energy levels to make a vitamin powerhouse. You could see an improvement in overall health and wellness through this natural and organic herbal supplement!
Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and nothing in this post is intended to diagnose, treat, or cure anything. If you have questions, please do your own research or seek advice from a health professional.