Heart Health (Cardiovascular Health)
Heart problems can have extremely serious consequences, but in many cases adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle can reduce your risk.
It is not uncommon for the first sign of a heart problem to be a major event, such as a heart attack or stroke. However there are often clues that issues are developing in the cardiovascular system. For example, cholesterol or blood pressure may be elevated. Consequently, your doctor checks these and other measures of your heart health whenever you have a check-up.
Other indications of heart problems may include:
- Pain in the chest that feels tight, squeezing or constricting may indicate a heart attack, regardless of whether it comes on suddenly or slowly. The pain may also be experienced in other parts of the body, including the jaw, arms, back and neck, and may be accompanied by nausea, dizziness and difficulty breathing. Call for an ambulance, even if you're not sure that a heart attack has occurred. Rapid medical intervention is essential.
- An irregular, rapid or fluttery heartbeat
- Oedema (fluid retention) of the abdomen and lower limbs
- Becoming breathless easily, even when youre not performing strenuous activities. You may also feel wheezy or cough frequently.
- Weakness and dizziness
- Increased sweating
- Symptoms of dizziness, vertigo, tinnitus, headache (especially first thing in the morning), nosebleed, nausea or erectile dysfunction may indicate high blood pressure.
- Over the long term, high cholesterol levels may cause deposits of cholesterol to form in the tendons (xanthoma) or eyelids (xanthelasma), and/or discolouration of the outer edge of the cornea (arcus senilis)
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease, and is caused by narrowing of the arteries, which increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke occurring.
High levels of LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol) are a key factor in the development of CAD because they can lead to the accumulation of fatty deposits in artery walls (atherosclerosis), making the arteries narrower and stiffer. Low levels of HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol) may also be involved. Cholesterol levels in the blood depend on dietary factors (e.g. the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol consumed) and the amount of cholesterol manufactured by the body (which may involve genetic factors).
Other factors that may contribute to the development of CAD include:
- High blood pressure (which may be a consequence of medical problems, but is more often due to lifestyle issues, including being obese, being physically inactive, and eating a high salt diet).
- High triglyceride levels (high levels of fat in the blood)
- High levels of a compound called homocysteine
- Being overweight
- Getting older
- Being diabetic
- Having a personal or family history of heart problems
- Leading an inactive lifestyle
- Congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart weakens and becomes unable to effectively perform its functions, is a serious consequence of CAD. As heart function declines, fluid accumulates in the abdomen, legs, and lungs, causing the characteristic symptoms of fatigue, oedema and breathlessness.
Heart problems require ongoing treatment and monitoring and are not suitable for self-treatment. The following information refers to supportive therapy only, and should not replace medical advice. Do not take any natural health supplements without discussing with your doctor, as some supplements may interact with your prescribed medicines or may not be suitable for your personal circumstances.
- Coenzyme q10 helps maintain heart and artery health and inhibits the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol. Oxidised cholesterol is a risk factor for heart and blood vessel problems.
- Coenzyme q10 is often taken with the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA from fish oil, which help decrease fat in the blood (triglycerides) in healthy people. Omega-3s also help to maintain the flexibility of the blood vessels, help maintain healthy heart rates and help maintain healthy blood pressure.
- Plant sterols (also known as phytosterols) may help to reduce LDL-cholesterol levels and improve the LDL:HDL ratio within the healthy range. They work by lowering cholesterol absorption and reabsorption. Take a daily dose of 2-3 grams of plant sterols per day, as recommended by the National Heart Foundation of Australia.
- Antioxidants are often taken with folic acid and the vitamins B6 and B12.