Heart disease and high blood pressure increase with age and are linked to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. This is caused by layers of cholesterol developing on the lining of arteries, which in turn leads to a narrowing of these arteries.
If this occurs in the blood vessels supplying the heart then insufficient blood and oxygen reach the heart muscle and angina and heart attack can follow. If it occurs in the blood vessels to the brain, you may have a stroke.
Animal fats (red meat and dairy products) are the main source of cholesterol and therefore eating less can reduce your chance of heart disease. Research has shown that a diet high in fish oils significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and Eskimos, who eat about ten times as much fish as we in the western world do, have very low rates of heart disease and a low prevalence of cholesterol problems.
So, we should all eat more oily fish (cod, salmon, mackerel, herring, etc.) But this is easier said than done! Even if you like fish, it’s hard to eat enough to provide the necessary levels of the essential omega-3 fatty acids. A good quality fish oil supplement is a great alternative as the oils have been properly filtered of any pesticide and mercury residues and contain high concentrations of the essential omega-3 oils, EPA and DHA.
Refined sugar (carbohydrate) can also be converted to cholesterol in the body if eaten in excess and our western diet contains more sugar than we were designed to deal with – one of the reasons obesity is so common now.
Cutting down on white bread, pasta, cakes and cookies can keep cholesterol levels down and also help you lose weight. Replace these unhealthy foods with healthier complex sugars such as wholegrain breads and pastas and brown rice products. They’re just as good and much better for you.
It is also important to have a good supply of proteins in our diets as they are essential for repair and strength as well as being an important energy source. Good sources include lean meat, fish, nuts and seeds.
And last but not least, regular aerobic exercise is essential to maintain cardiovascular health. Where mobility and medical conditions allow, you should undertake a physical activity that raises the heart rate and breathing rate for 20 – 30 minutes at least three times a week.
To your health,
Dr. Chris Dawkins, BM, MRCGP, LMCC
Chief Nutrition Optimizer at Natural Health Publishing