It keeps us alive and ticking but heart disease is responsible for nearly a third of deaths in the world, and our diet plays an essential role in our heart function, and there's lots of things we can do to keep it healthy. These are the top tips for keeping your heart healthy from our expert nutritionists.
What does the heart do?
Your heart is the organ that pumps blood around the body, the vital nutrition supply to the cells. The blood gets pumped to the lungs where it collects oxygen, which then travels to the rest of the body to deliver it, before being taken back to the heart for another cycle.
Once food is digested, the nutrients are absorbed across the gut into your blood. It is the heart's job to ensure this nutrient rich blood is pumped to every cell so they can receive the nutrients they need to survive and thrive.
Hormones are also released into the blood and need to be circulated to the cells where they can exert their instructions on the cells.
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Removes waste products
Waste products from the cells are released into the blood, which are then pumped by the heart to the liver and kidneys for processing and excretion from the body via urine and poo.
Why is a healthy heart important?
Effective function of the heart is essential to get the blood around the body. Heart function can become impaired for many reasons, including age, diet, lack of exercise and stress. If the heart is not functioning well, blood flow will be impaired.
Mood and brain function
The brain needs a good flow of blood to function effectively. If blood flow to the brain is impaired, the result might be reduced cognitive function and low moods or even depression.
Learn more in 'The best vitamins for brain health'.
Every cell in your body relies directly on the nutrition that is being pumped around by your heart. It is this nutrition that enables each cell to make energy for themselves, and to power your body.
Poor libido and sexual function are the often the first signs of poor blood flow. The genitals need adequate blood flow for arousal and function, such as getting and maintaining an erection, or moisturisation of the vagina.
You may like to read the 'Best and worst foods for sex drive'.
Skin, hair and nails
Poor blood flow, especially to the skin, results in dry, flaky skin, weak, brittle nails and thin hair that breaks or falls out easily. This is because the hair, skin and nails rely directly on the heart and good blood flow to provide the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
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Diet and heart health
A healthy diet is an essential factor when it comes to heart health. The following dietary factors can positively or negatively affect its health and function.
Fibre is essential in the diet as it helps to prevent the absorption of some dietary cholesterol - high cholesterol is a major factor in heart disease. Fibre also feeds good bacteria, some of which also metabolise cholesterol, preventing it from being absorbed.
A high cholesterol diet is bad news for the heart. Although we do need some cholesterol in our diet, if there is too much the body will store it in the arteries where it starts to narrow the passage of blood and place strain on the heart.
Antioxidants are essential in the diet as they prevent cholesterol in the arteries from oxidising. It is oxidised cholesterol that becomes hard, causing stiff arteries. Pieces of hard oxidised cholesterol can break off and cause blood clots.
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There are many nutrients needed for the function of the heart. The heart is a muscle that never stops working in its entire life. The cells in the heart are full of energy factories (called mitochondria), and they need the correct nutrients to function and produce the energy for the heart to pump blood.
Lifestyle and heart health
Lifestyle has a huge impact on the health of the heart, and it is affected by many different aspects.
Stress is a major contributor of poor heart health. When stressed, the body releases the hormone cortisol which increases blood pressure and speeds up heart rate. Chronic stress is bad news so ensure that your lifestyle include plenty of relaxation and stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga and walking in nature.
Learn more in '6 big signs of stress'.
Alcohol consumption can increase the level of fats in the blood and ultimately contributes to clogged arteries. Keep any alcohol consumption to a minimum, and if you do need to drink, stick to red wine.
Exercise has many benefits including strengthening the heart muscle, improving blood flow, and regular gentle exercise can reduce the effect of stress on the heart. Exercise that raises the heart rate including brisk walking, jogging, swimming and dancing are beneficial as they increase the strength of the heart, and in the long run, slow the heart rate during day-to-day life, extending its life.
Supplements for heart health
Magnesium is a 'mineral superhero' and is an essential electrolyte that helps to transport calcium and potassium into cells, as well as control the level of water in the cells and blood. Magnesium, and the electrolytes it works with, are essential for the function of the nerves in the heart which control the heartbeat.
Learn more in 'How do I know if I'm deficient in Magnesium'.
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Ashwagandha is beneficial for heart health in a number of ways, primarily in helping to regulate cortisol, your stress hormone. Controlling stress and cortisol has a long-term benefit to the heart. Ashwagandha may also decrease the level of fats in the blood.
Learn more in 'What is cortisol?'.
B Vitamins are required for the health and function of the nerves that control the heart. The B Vitamins Folic Acid and Vitamin B12 also reduce the level of a substance called 'homocysteine' in the blood, which otherwise contributes significantly to the risk of developing heart diseases.
Vitamin D has been shown to have a protective and restorative action on the heart and blood vessels. Having the right level of Vitamin D may help to prevent or reverse damage to the blood vessels caused by high blood pressure, atherosclerosis and diabetes.
We think you'll also enjoy reading How do I know if I'm deficient in Vitamin D?
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