According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. It accounts for 1 in every 4 deaths with coronary heart disease (CHD) being the most common. What’s worse, every year, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack, with over 500,000 being their first and about 210,000 being their second. (1)
Furthermore, most heart attacks happen on Monday morning. This makes sense considering many people are stressed from anticipating the work week, suggesting an emotional component. However, there is a mind-body connection as well as other organ systems contributing to underlying heart disease issues. Therefore, certain lifestyle changes and natural ways of living need to be enforced in order to reduce concern and prevent heart disease.
How Hormones and Heart Health Are Connected
CHD occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries, which can narrow and/or block the space in which blood flows. This contributes to elevated blood pressure as the heart has to pump harder to get blood through narrower spaces. This can also increase the risk of pieces breaking off and traveling elsewhere potentially resulting in a heart attack (or chest pain) or stroke.
Plaques are made of cholesterol, waste material, calcium, and clotting material that slowly accumulates over time. Cholesterol is mostly made and metabolized in the liver (also regulates clotting factors), and waste material should be detoxed appropriately also by the liver and excreted through our digestive system. ‘Good’ cholesterol (HDL) helps bind up extra cholesterol, while ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) delivers cholesterol to the body for cellular health and to make many hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, and aldosterone (much of these released from the adrenal glands- 2 glands that sit on top of our kidneys).
So LDL isn’t necessarily bad. But when there’s too much or not enough HDL, this imbalance can become detrimental. These processes are also dependent on thyroid function, which control how fast or slow they get metabolized. The processes are also dependent on liver function for eventually making active hormones.
In particular, estrogen and testosterone (mainly produced adrenals and reproductive organs) help contribute to cardiovascular health. Yet too much or too little can also pose risks. Estrogen helps grow new blood vessels, improve blood vessels’ ability to constrict and expand, helps cells respond to insulin (takes sugar into cells for energy), and increase HDL/lower LDL and triglycerides (demonstrated to vary too with her menstrual cycle). (2)
Testosterone helps improve the way our body utilizes cholesterol, regulates blood pressure, as well as our cell’s response to insulin. (3) Fat cells (adipocytes) can further contribute to worsening these functions, as well as alter hormone levels by secreting aromatase, which converts testosterone into estrogen.
Any of these levels out of balance can directly impact our risk of developing heart disease, which can in turn impact our hormone levels, and potentially contribute to other concerns as already at least 5 different organ systems are mentioned.
There are blood markers to test these five different organ systems, and then some others to add an additional understanding of how they’re really functioning. Vitamin D, C-reactive protein (overall inflammatory), and homocysteine (how someone detoxes) are also beneficial. Consider urine or saliva testing for estrogen and progesterone as they measure the free/active version, while blood measures both free and bound (inactive). Cortisol can also be tested throughout the day using these methods as well, as it can help the practitioner and patient understand any other potential stressors on the body.
A Therapeutic Approach…
Fortunately there are many lifestyle changes and natural therapies available to help nourish all these organ systems. Some of these include proper sleep, stress management, supplements, and nutritional intake. Which organ systems? you might ask. Well, they actually go beyond the heart to the thyroid, liver, fat cells, adrenal glands, reproductive organs, and not mentioned but important is the brain (sends many signals) and pancreas (regulates insulin).
Indirectly, the gut is also involved as it helps breakdown food and ensure we get nutrients, and ensures estrogens and toxins get excreted.
5 Lifestyle, Nutrition, and Supplement Tips That Can Help
- Aiming for dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables will help us get the most bang for our buck in how we get vitamins and minerals.
- Drinking at least half our body weight in ounces of water helps keep our appetite down (water and thirst are the same signal to the brain), helps clear our body of toxins, and provides minerals important to hormone health.
- Sleep is incredibly important as this regulates our cortisol levels and helps our hormones renew themselves, especially going to bed before 11 p.m., and getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Further, additional sleep helps increase leptin, the hunger hormone that says ‘you’re full.’
- Magnesium is a wonderful mineral that also aids in all these processes, and known as ‘nature’s relaxer’, where you can really have time to yourself (think of the heart as emotions too) in an Epsom salt bath a few times a week before you go to bed.
- Emotionally, we can control how we feel and handle a situation. From meditation to practicing forgiveness, emotions are stored in our cells and our heart is literally our emotions. How are our relationships? Friendships? Even the relationship with oneself?
Understanding that the cardiovascular system is intertwined with the rest of the body can empower us to make lifestyle shifts that truly encompass how we can maximize our efforts and have a broad impact on both healing and prevention.
Supplements are meant to supplement, not replace, an unhealthy lifestyle, and working with a knowledgeable practitioner to guide you through different types of supplements to where help is needed most, address you as the individual, test as needed, and be wary of any herb/drug/nutrient interaction, can lead you with tools in creating an optimal lifestyle.
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