The heart is a vital organ, but it is also a pump – the driving force that circulates 2500 to 5000 gallons of blood a day through 60,000 miles of blood vessels, carrying life-giving oxygen and nutrients to our cells and carting away waste/carbon dioxide. It works closely with our lungs to make this happen, with the goal of achieving an efficient circulatory system.
Our hearts begin life in a rush, beating 130 times a minute at birth and slowing within a few years to 50-80 beats per minute (it varies with individuals) which we will maintain for the rest of our lives. An exception is athletic training, plus the right genes, which can dramatically lower our pulse rate. (In his racing days, Spanish cyclist Miguel Indurain, had a resting heart beat of only 28.) But for all of us, the efficiency of the heart falls with age, even if the pulse rate remains the same, moving only half as much blood at age 90 as it did at 20.
Heart attack – called the ‘silent killer,’ because it often comes without warning – is the second most common cause of death in western countries (replaced as number one only recently by cancer). But it can be highly preventable. Blockages in blood vessels are the most common cause, and the risk of these can be sharply reduced, not only by diet, stress management, and exercise, but also by nutritional supplements such as garlic, antioxidants (including Coenzyme Q10, Vitamins C & E), magnesium, zinc, fish or flaxseed oil and niacin (vitamin B3). Certain amino acids such as carnitine and taurine, and the sugar d-ribose can help to strengthen and give energy to the inner workings of the heart muscle. The herbs mistletoe and hawthorn are powerful to the functioning of the heart, but need to be checked for interactions with medications or other nutraceuticals, when prescribed. And regular check-ups (monitoring blood pressure, weight, and scheduling routine blood tests to assess lipids and other markers) with your physician can help to prevent future heart attacks.
Given a little co-operation from us, the heart is entirely self-maintaining. That means avoiding foods that are high in saturated fats, processed foods, and salt. Such a diet hastens hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and clogs them with cholesterol, fatty material and other cellular debris. Stress, smoking and lack of exercise have the same effect, impeding the flow of blood through all those miles of blood vessels, which in turn drives up blood pressure and forces the heart to work harder. Encouraging foods that are high in ‘good’ fats (salmon, herring, anchovies, mackerel, almonds, cashews, avocado, and olive oil), lean protein, fiber, and a variety of fruit and vegetables can treat and prevent heart disease..
Having a healthy and balanced lifestyle is key to strengthening and maintaining your heart. If you give your heart the love it deserves, it will give back to you decades of circulation, energy, and vitality that you will be grateful for.