Heart disease has a variety of symptoms, causes, and treatments, and it is one of the major health conditions Americans suffer from. However, recent questions have arisen about whether it is reversible.
Heart disease is not only preventable, but it can be managed through diet and lifestyle changes. Recent research has even shown a possibility that it can be reversed, providing hope for future innovations within cardiovascular healthcare. Let’s talk about the basics of heart disease and how you can prevent and manage it!
What is Heart Disease?
There are many different kinds of heart disease, but each kind occurs when some part of the heart (the blood vessels, arteries, heart muscle) are damaged, unhealthy, or don’t perform correctly. For instance, coronary artery disease is a kind of heart disease that causes 1 million heart attacks per year. This kind of heart disease is caused by the buildup of plaque.
Plaque accumulates in our arteries when we eat diets high in cholesterol. As plaque builds up in our arteries, they become narrower, and their ability to supply blood to the heart gets weaker. When your heart doesn’t get enough blood, this can lead to heart attack and heart disease.
Heart disease presents itself in many symptoms. These include chest pain, shortness of breath, pain and numbness in your legs and arms, and pain in your back, stomach, and neck. Some heart problems can also present symptoms of abnormally fast or slow heart rate, abnormal heart rhythm, lightheadedness and fainting. Heart disease can lead to many complications, including heart failure, heart attack, stroke, brain aneurysm, cardiac arrest, and artery disease.
Risk Factors of Heart Disease
There are certain qualities that increase your risk of heart disease. Some of these factors are controllable, and some are not.
Here are some of the most common risk factors associated with heart disease.
Age. As we get older, our risk for developing heart disease increases. This is simply because of how muscles weaken over time. As our heart muscles weaken, we may be more prone to heart disease.
Gender. Men are actually at a greater risk for heart disease than women are, although women’s risk for heart disease increases after menopause.
Family History. Your family history is also a determining factor in your risk for heart disease. If your parents or a close relative developed heart disease before turning 55 years old, this increases your risk of heart disease, too.
Smoking. Smoking causes your blood vessels to tighten and makes them more susceptible to inner lining damage and carbon monoxide damage. This also makes them more susceptible to coronary artery disease, which can lead to heart attack.
High Blood Pressure. High blood pressure causes your arteries to thicken and become harder. As they get thicker, the passage in them gets narrower, and lowers the amount of blood vessels that can pass through! When less blood is able to pass through and reach the heart, this can result in heart disease.
Diabetes. Diabetes also raises the risk of heart disease and has similar causes to heart disease such as obesity and high blood pressure.
Stress. If you have prolonged or unmanaged stress, this can make it harder for your arteries to recover and heal, thus increasing your risk for heart disease.
- Poor Dental Health. Surprisingly, dental hygiene plays a large role in your risk for heart disease. Gum diseases, infection, and bacteria can actually enter your bloodstream through your mouth, so if you don’t brush well and floss, this can cause bacteria to reach your heart. This leads to inflammation of the heart's lining, which is known as endocarditis.
Now that you understand the basics of heart disease and its risk factors, let’s talk about how to prevent it.
Preventing Heart Disease
If you’re wondering whether heart disease is preventable—the short answer is yes! However, it takes dedication, gumption, and commitment to make this change. Managing symptoms of heart disease depends on one main factor: your diet.
To answer this very question, Dr. Dean Ornish conducted an experiment with 48 volunteer participants who had heart disease. By only altering their diets, he was able to manage their heart disease! In just one month, chest pain was lowered by 90%, blood flow to the heart improved, and after a year, the arteries that were blocked had reopened and the plaque diminished!
Dr. Ornish found that eating a plant-based diet decreased the participant’s blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation levels, and drastically reduced coronary heart disease.
Eating a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be bland! In fact, plants offer a variety of color, texture, and flavors that create a delicious variety of options. As a bonus, they just make you feel better!
Here are some ways you can make the move toward a more plant-based diet in your day to day.
1. Ditch high cholesterol foods.
Because heart disease is caused by cholesterol laying down plaque in the arteries, the best way to manage heart disease is to not consume cholesterol.
High cholesterol foods include meat, dairy products, eggs, processed grains, foods high in saturated and trans-fats, fried foods, foods high in sodium, and foods with high artificial sweetener or high sugar levels.
When trying to manage heart disease, you actually can keep some sugar in your diet. Moderation is key. For instance, you can have 2 servings per day of sweeteners. This includes honey, maple syrup, and white or brown sugar.
Alcohol is allowed in moderation, but not encouraged. It’s best to stay away from alcohol or limit your consumption to one serving per day.
2. Eat a plant-based diet.
The next step is to eat a plant-based diet.
Plants have very little dietary cholesterol, have very little saturated or trans-fats, and are high in fiber, which helps your body break down cholesterol. Eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and soy as they’re found in their natural habitat can help your body manage heart disease. You can even eat non-fat dairy and egg whites occasionally.
Plants are rich in fiber, good carbs, good fats, proteins, and the nutrients vital to growth and health. When you’re eating plants, aim for a variety of shapes, colors, textures, and flavors. Fiber helps break down cholesterol and prevents plaque from sticking to your artery walls, so aim to eat foods high in fiber.
3. Regulate fat intake.
Good fats are allowed as ten percent of a plant-based diet, which adds up to about four grams a day. Good fats are found naturally in grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes, so you don’t need to add any oils, avocados, and more! Servings of nuts should be limited, but they are in fact rich in good fats.
Here are some servings of nuts you can have that are under three milligrams of fat:
- 5 almonds
- 9 pistachios
- 1 walnut
- 2 cashews
- 6 peanuts
- 2 tsp chia seeds
- 2 tsp sunflower seeds
You can also enjoy flaxseed oil, fish oil, and plankton-based omega-3 fatty acid supplements to provide your body with 4 grams of fat per day.
4. Eat plant-based protein.
Even though this plant-based diet cuts out meat, dairy, and limits other protein sources like nuts, it is surprisingly rich in protein. Eating plant-based protein helps you get the energy you need to get through the day, while also avoiding cholesterol and helping you manage heart disease.
Here are some plant-based proteins to start including in your cart at the grocery store:
- Egg whites
- Nonfat yogurt and nonfat cheese
5. Take a multivitamin.
Dr. Ornish also found that taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement with B12, fish oil, or even a calcium supplement could help manage heart disease as well and help you maintain proper nutrition as you eat a plant-based diet.
Tip: If you don’t regularly take a multivitamin, try taking Because’s multivitamin gummies! Packed with vitamin A, C, E, B5, B12, and more, these gummies are a convenient way to get a ton of the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy while you work to improve your eating habits!
6. Implement healthy lifestyle changes.
Changing your diet in these ways is powerful and has been scientifically proven to help manage mild and even severe heart disease. However, exercise and healthy living are recommended to help you get the most out of your diet.
Whether you participate in aerobic exercises such as walking or swimming, yoga, balance exercises, or strength exercise into your workout routine, aim to move for at least 150 minutes each week. In addition to this, practice overall health and wellness by kicking bad habits like smoking to the curb.
The Easiest Way To Start Making Changes: Swap It Out
Starting any new diet can be difficult, especially when you’re used to eating a certain type of food and have a weekly meal routine. Here is a short guide on foods you can swap out for heart-healthy foods:
- Swap out your sugary cereal for a bowl of oatmeal and fruit
- Swap out white bread or pasta with whole wheat or multigrain bread and pasta
- Swap out white rice or rice noodles with whole grain rice or noodles. You can also try quinoa!
- Swap out salt for fresh herbs and salt-free spice blends
- Swap out potato chips and processed snack foods for plain popcorn, nuts, fruits, or seeds.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be! By changing your diet, avoiding cholesterol, and eating plant-based, fiber-rich foods, you can help your body purge plaque from your arteries, increase blood flow to the heart, and help manage heart disease.
Plus, implementing these changes can increase your excitement for life, decrease health-related worrying, and help you feel better!