The death toll from heart disease continues to be staggering. It accounts for one in four deaths – killing 647,000 Americans a year.1
But medical researchers are still figuring out what causes hearts to seize up, not to mention uncovering proven natural ways to protect heart health. Recently, they’ve come up with a few surprises that you should know about.
Women are at Higher Risk
By now, I’m sure most of us understand that lifestyle choices like smoking, having uncontrolled high blood pressure, and suffering from uncontrolled diabetes increase your heart attack risk.
However, most researchers have failed to note that these factors increase the dangerous risks much more for women than they do for men.
For example, a study at the University of Oxford in England indicates that while smoking doubles the risk of a heart attack for men, it triples the risk for women.2
Similarly, women with high blood pressure have an 80 percent higher risk of a heart attack compared to men with hypertension. And women with diabetes are at a 47 percent higher risk compared to diabetic men.
And while mainstream doctors used to think that heart disease was mostly a man’s problem, studies like this one are now forcing them to face the fact that, oftentimes, heart disease is more of a danger to women.
Vitamin D is Essential to a Healthy Heart
Another problem is that large portions of the U.S. don’t get enough vitamin D, and vitamin D is crucial for keeping the heart and arteries healthy and working correctly.
Research at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University shows that vitamin D supplements can help arteries become more flexible and, by reducing arterial rigidity, can lower the risk of dying from heart disease.3
In this test, conducted on overweight and vitamin D deficient African-Americans, four months of taking vitamin D (4,000 IU a day) produced measurable improvements in artery function – a 10.4 percent improvement.
Those who took 2,000 IU improved by only two percent. And the people who didn’t take any vitamin D, or only took 600 IU daily, had arteries that were increasingly rigid by the end of the study.
According to the Georgia scientists, more than four out of five Americans don’t get enough vitamin D. I can easily believe it, since “experts” used to tell us that more than 400 IU per day was dangerous! And on top of that, they tell everyone to stay out of the sun.
Sine we’re indoors so much and we wear sunscreen, our skin can’t get the sunlight it needs to make vitamin D. Researcher Yanbin Dong says we should all get at least 15 minutes a day outside in the sun without sunscreen between 10 am and 2 pm. And remember not to stay out so long that your skin burns.
Keep in mind, too, that the sun is much more intense during the summer than during the winter, and adjust your exposure to fit the facts. It all depends on your skin type, the time of day, the time of year, and even your race – but the point is, don’t stay out so long it changes the color of your skin. You don’t need that much sun to get the vitamin D you need.
Sunshine or no sunshine, supplements are almost always necessary anyway.
New, Natural Chemical for Heart Health
Another way to increase heart health is to eat a diet rich in fish and vegetables, such as the Mediterranean diet. Researchers point to the abundance of healthy fats and high fiber in the diet, which protects against high cholesterol and high blood sugar — with the “free bonus” that it helps you maintain a healthy weight, too.
New research also reveals the heart health benefits of a natural compound called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), likewise abundant in the Mediterranean diet.
Lab tests in Europe show that one reason a diet containing fish and a rich supply of vegetables helps the cardiovascular system is that it supplies TMAO – which is linked to reducing harmful thickening of the heart wall and shrinking the risk of heart failure.4
It should be noted that several studies have suggested negative effects of TMAO on heart health, but in those cases, researchers pointed to the TMAO from dairy products and red meat. However, researchers have observed higher TMAO levels in people after they consumed fish and vegetables than after they consumed red meat and eggs, which may increase cardiovascular risk if you overdo them.
The researchers believe that the presence of TMAO in fish and vegetables is probably a positive for the heart and likely a big factor in the fact that the Mediterranean diet – rich in vegetables and fish – produces heart health benefits. Of course, it’s still early in the game for TMAO and more study is needed to see what other natural compounds could be involved in the heart health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
Harvard Secret for Regenerating Your Heart
Harvard researchers have discovered that you can help your heart regenerate its muscle tissue.
Their lab tests show that aerobic exercise stimulates the creation of new coronary muscle cells – and the technique works both under normal circumstances and after a heart attack.
I know, I know, I’ve often touted the benefits of exercise. But this study has uncovered even more heart health benefits than researchers have previously understood.
As you get older, the heart’s ability to repair itself decreases. But this investigation demonstrates that exercise gets the heart to act younger by increasing the heart’s self-repair so it can replace damaged cells with new ones.
“Maintaining a healthy heart requires balancing the loss of heart muscle cells due to injury or aging with the regeneration or birth of new heart muscle cells. Our study suggests exercise can help tip the balance in favor of regeneration,” says researcher Anthony Rosenzweig.
His fellow researcher Richard Lee adds, “Our study shows that you might be able to make your heart younger by exercising more every day.”5
In their studies, the Harvard scientists haven’t pinned down exactly how exercise works its magic. But their tests show it can make beneficial epigenetic changes affecting DNA behavior in heart muscle cells that no drug can mimic.
That’s exciting news and certainly some fresh inspiration to add some—or more— exercise time into your daily routine.