Healthy Heart, Happy Valentine

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It appears that February may touch your heart in more ways than one, bringing both Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month. In light of this national observance, President Obama expressed his concerns about heart disease, referring to it as a “staggering health problem and a leading cause of death for American women and men, affecting 1 in 3 adults in the United States.”

American Heart Month reminds us that it’s never too early to take action to reduce our risk. Fortunately, in most cases, cardiovascular disease is highly preventable. Daily lifestyle habits like consuming a nutritious, produce-rich diet, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco, minimizing excess salt, and incorporating daily exercise are crucial steps.

In terms of your menu, fresh, whole foods offer many cardio protective nutrients. Vitamin E guards your heart through antioxidant activity,1 while vitamins B-6, B-12 and folic acid reduce homocysteine, which at high blood levels accelerates your risk of stroke and heart/vascular disease. And niacin can significantly improve HDL (“good”) cholesterol—with better results than statin drugs. In fact, niacin continues to be the most effective agent in raising HDL cholesterol.2

We can also take a lesson from the French, as research shows that a daily glass of red wine can boost cardiovascular health, primarily due to resveratrol—a polyphenol found in grape skins and seeds. Resveratrol helps reduce damage to the heart by supporting vascular cell function, minimizing dangerous LDL (“bad”) cholesterol oxidation and reducing risk of blood clots.3 Resveratrol may also help prevent neurodegenerative diseases, inflammation and diabetes.4

And it gets better. Did you know that chocolate is another heart-health ally? Cocoa is a rich source of flavonoids—natural compounds with potent antioxidant properties. Flavonoids help protect us from vascular disease, which can cause heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and hypertension. Chocolate-based flavonoids also minimize the free radical damage that might otherwise cause LDL-cholesterol oxidation and plaque formation on arterial walls, and may be even more powerful than vitamin C in protecting blood fats from oxidation.5

So, you see, despite those dire cardiovascular disease statistics, there is good news. Fresh, whole foods, red wine and chocolate? Now that’s heartening. Happy Valentine’s Day!

1 Ann Intern Med. 1995 Dec 1;123(11):887
2 Int J Womens Health. 2010 Aug 9;1:181-91
3 Int J Mol Med. 2001 Jul;8(1):3-17
4 Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2009 September; 33(9): 1513–1523.
5 J Agric Food Chem. 1999 Dec;47(12):4821-4)

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