Basic Heart Health

May 31, 2018
Tavid Westerhoff-Mason

 

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the industrialised world. It saturates the media and touches every family. All of this trouble from just a single fist sized organ. Most heart disease is caused by just a few processes. By understanding your heart better, you can fight off the processes causing heart disease to live a happier and healthier life. The heart is supplied with oxygenated blood by a system of arteries called the coronary arteries. If blood flow through the coronary arteries is disturbed then heart cells cannot work as efficiently and may even become permanently damaged. Most commonly this is the result of a process called atherosclerosis. 

Atherosclerosis is a complicated process, whereby immune cells on the walls of arteries scavenge fat and cholesterol in the blood stream. Initially, this is an important part of normal metabolic function, but over time these cells build up and form fatty plaques in the artery walls. If these plaques get big enough, they can restrict blood flow through vessels. They can also rupture, releasing fragments and blood clotting proteins into downstream arteries. Plaques and clotted pieces can get lodged in smaller arteries, blocking flow entirely. A significant decrease in blood flowing through the coronary arteries in the heart can cause a heart attack and may lead to permanent damage or even death.  A small amount of atherosclerotic plaque can build up in everyone, but certain diets and lifestyles can drastically accelerate the process.

The fats and cholesterol that build up in atherosclerosis often come straight from your diet. Your diet is a critical component in controlling fat and cholesterol levels in the blood and limiting the spread of artery clogging plaques. There is no single diet that works perfectly for everyone, but there are guidelines that can help cultivate cardiovascular health. The fatty build-ups in atherosclerosis can be accelerated by an unhealthy diet. Saturated fats are particularly prone to increasing fat and cholesterol levels in the blood. These types of fat are primarily found in animal products like butter,cheese, and red meat. Limiting saturated fats in your diet can help keep their influence minimal.

Fibre is an indigestible structural component of plants and an indispensable part of a balanced diet. Fibre helps maintain proper metabolism of cholesterols and is important for maintaining bowel health. Fruit, vegetables, and legumes are excellent sources of fibre and can help maintain healthy levels of cholesterols and fats in the blood stream. 

While there is no perfect diet for everyone, some diets like the Mediterranean diet, have been linked to a lower incidence of heart disease. The Mediterranean diet is rich in leafy greens, fresh fish, and olive oil. Consider speaking to a professional about the right diet choice for you. Smoking can cause changes in blood pressure and damage to the inside of blood vessels. The damage caused by smoking is especially attractive to the processes behind atherosclerosis and can accelerate plaque formation. Not smoking is very important in preventing vascular damage and keeping the heart healthy.