Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia with around 40% of all deaths being directly related to poor cardiovascular health. Cardiovascular risk factors include conditions such as high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
One of the most common conditions that contribute to increased risk of heart disease is elevated cholesterol levels. While cholesterol is a very important substance that is found in all the cells of the body, and is needed to make hormones and vitamin D, too much can be a bad thing. Most people are familiar with the expressions “good” and “bad’ cholesterol. Bad cholesterol, or LDL (low density lipoproteins), is the form of cholesterol that can build up in the arteries, causing a narrowing of the blood vessel. Good cholesterol or HDL (high density lipoproteins) is used to carry cholesterol from other parts of the body back to the liver where it is processed and removed. More good HDL cholesterol means lower risks of heart disease.
Cholesterol testing will usually also measure triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are the fats that are found floating in the bloodstream.
While many people have a family history of elevated cholesterol, many more have raised their cholesterol levels simply through poor eating habits and lack of exercise.
High cholesterol is typically controlled with the use of a class of medication called ‘statins’. Statin drugs such as Lipitor, Zocor and Pravachol work by stopping the activity of a liver enzyme responsible for the production of cholesterol.
Hypertension or high blood pressure affects millions of Australians. Essentially, the heart is beating more forcefully in an effort to push blood around the body. This puts strain on all the blood vessels, most especially those that lead directly from the heart. The risk of damage is further increased if a higher than normal cholesterol level has reduced the diameter of these blood vessels, causing back pressure on the heart as it pumps blood out.
Blood pressure is measured by two readings. The systolic reading is the reading of the pressure in the heart as it is pumping blood out of it. This is the higher reading in a blood pressure examination and should fall within the ‘normal’ range of 110 – 130 mmol/Hg. The diastolic reading is the lower reading, measuring the pressure in the heart ‘at rest’ after it has pumped the blood. This reading usually has a normal range between 70 – 80 mmol/Hg.
Blood pressure is often treated in a number of ways. Drugs called ACE inhibitors are commonly prescribed to control blood pressure. They work by blocking the chemicals that cause the arteries to narrow, thus giving the heart more ‘room’ or ‘space’ to push into – which means less resistance.
Beta blockers are another commonly prescribed blood pressure medication. Beta blockers work by blocking the action of a chemical called noradrenaline that can cause arteries to constrict. Much like ACE inhibitors, Beta blockers can cause a widening of the blood vessels which means less back pressure on the heart.
Calcium channel blockers are drugs that limit the amount of movement of calcium through cell walls. While different forms of calcium channel blockers work in different parts of the body, those prescribed for lowering blood pressure do so by reducing the force of contraction of the heart muscle. They also relax the blood vessel walls, again widening the diameter of the blood vessels and allowing the blood to be pumped into them from the heart much more easily and with less resistance.
Integrative Medicine Treatments
Food is an important consideration in managing cardiovascular disease. Avoiding those foods that may lead to increased cholesterol levels is very important, as is including those foods that can help to raise good cholesterol, and maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
As with diabetes friendly foods, heart friendly foods tend to be unprocessed whole foods like grains, meats ,vegetables and fruit. Oat bran has been shown consistently to lower cholesterol levels and oats themselves are a rich source of magnesium that is beneficial in relaxing blood vessels. Meats choices should ideally be lean ones. Lean poultry and fish and occasional cuts of lean red meat are all sound.
Quite a few people seem afraid to supplement for improved cardiovascular health. While conventional medical therapies are very effective, there are many natural substances that can make a tremendous improvement to heart health.
Policosanols are natural derivatives of sugar cane wax. These substances have been clinicall shown to effectively increase HDL levels, decrease LDL levels and decrease levels of triglycerides as well. Policosanol works in a similar fashion to the statin drugs, slowing the production of cholesterol in the liver. Unlike the statin medications, there are no known side effects of policosanol other than some occasional weight loss.
CoEnzymeQ10 (CoQ10)is an extremely important cardiovascular substance to consider when supplementing for good cardiovascular health. It is a fat soluble antioxidant that has energy boosting and blood pressure lowering properties. It is most important in people who are taking statin medications for high cholesterol levels as the enzyme system that those drugs affect is the same that allows the body to extract CoQ10 from the food we eat. In short, most people on statin medicines will not be making adequate amounts of CoQ10.
If you are taking a cholesterol lowering medicine, ask yourself this. Have you ever felt like you are constantly tired or running low on energy? Have you ever experienced aches or pains in the legs, hips or lower back? Both of these symptoms are very common in people who take cholesterol lowering drugs, mainly because they are deficient in CoQ10.
In Japan, CoQ10 has been a government subsidised heart medication since 1974 where research consistently shows that more than 70% of heart disease patients improve after taking it.
As well as their ability to reduce inflammation, fish oils are very important supplements to consider if controlling cholesterol is important to you. Fish oils reduce triglycerides, the fats that float through the bloodstream, very effectively. In fact, fish oil is so important and so beneficial for cholesterol levels that it has been recommended by the American Heart Association for improved heart health. If you are able to eat plenty of fish several times a week you probably don’t need to take a supplement. For those of us that can’t manage to do this, fish oil capsules are cheap, convenient and in Australia, made to the highest standards.
Nerve Tonics and Relaxers
Many many people are medicated for high blood pressure when in fact it is their nervous systems that need the support. The systolic blood pressure reading measures the pressure on the heart as it is pumping blood out.
If we look at the stress response, we can see that the body is programmed in such a way as to naturally increase blood pressure in response to whatever it sees as a threat. This increase in blood pressure drives more blood and nutrients around the body, allowing that body to access more immediate energy to run away from the danger it thinks it’s facing. With this stress related heart pumping comes a narrowing of the arteries – further raising the blood pressure. In fact, there is a medical condition often referred to as “white coat” blood pressure that describes the increase in blood pressure seen only because the stress of a doctor taking it causes it to shoot up.
If you have a blood pressure reading that usually features a low bottom or diastolic reading, and a higher than desired top or systolic level, you should really think more about controlling your stress levels. You are more than likely experiencing high blood pressure as a result of stress rather than because you have anything specifically wrong with your heart.
There are dozens of extremely effective natural remedies that will help you lower your stress levels. Talk with your pharmacist about the best ones for your particular situation.
Quality Pharmacy is dedicated to helping our customers reduce their cardiovascular risk as much as possible. By offering an integrated approach to medication we feel that we can help you stay as healthy and protected as you can possibly be.
As with any supplementation, it can be easy to become confused. Please ask your pharmacist about the best ways you can combine one or more of these supplements, with diet and your current medication to ensure you are getting the most complete cardiovascular management you can.