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What does it mean to truly maintain and optimize your cardiovascular health?
This article will explore how you can consider auditing your own approach to using functional medicine for heart health in a few simple steps. Know what next steps or questions you need to take when working with your physician in the community or working with one of the naturopathic physicians at Rebel Med NW.
Functional Medicine for Cardiovascular Health
What does functional medicine or naturopathic medicine have to do with cardiovascular health? When I go to the doctor, they just tell me if I should take blood pressure medicine or a statin, or my numbers are normal and I don’t need to do anything.
Functional medicine & Naturopathic Medicine takes a whole-person approach to healthcare and focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of health issues, including those related to cardiovascular health. Here are some approaches to consider using functional medicine for cardiovascular health:
- Nutrition: Functional medicine & naturopathic practitioners may recommend dietary changes to support cardiovascular health, such as eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins. They may also recommend avoiding processed foods, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats. Truly balancing the difference between oxidative foods and antioxidants in the diet.
- Lifestyle modifications: This may include exercise, stress reduction techniques, and getting enough sleep. Exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, and stress reduction techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. These techniques can uniquely be measured with our biofeedback providers, or with the use of various apps and devices that measure Heart Rate Variability.
- Nutritional supplements: Naturopathic medicine practitioners may recommend supplements to support cardiovascular health. Examples include omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and Coenzyme Q10, that are classically used in many popular multivitamins or online products. We take it a step further, and truly examine the research such as common nutraceuticals that are used in statin resistant patients (1) to additionally lower their ASCVD+ risk scores.
- Testing: Functional medicine practitioners may use specialized tests to identify potential risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as genetic predispositions, inflammation, and nutrient deficiencies. Based on these results, they can develop personalized treatment plans to address these risk factors. The providers at Rebel Med NW, however are very judicious about ordering tests vs what you may find we like to support the true concept of clinically appropriate testing vs providers in the field that order many cost prohibitive tests and not actually change their recommendations that could be foundational to your cardiovascular care.
- Medication management: In some cases, functional medicine practitioners may work with patients’ primary care physicians to manage medications and ensure they are being used appropriately and safely. We take great pride in this at Rebel Med NW, as we also have it in our scope of practice to prescribe these medications consistent with the safety guidelines suggested by the American College of Cardiology or the American Diabetes Association to prevent further harm.
Overall, the functional and naturopathic medicine approach to cardiovascular health involves addressing the root causes of disease and developing personalized treatment plans to support cardiovascular health.
What does a Heart Healthy Diet look like?
A heart-healthy diet is one that is rich in nutrients that support cardiovascular health and low in unhealthy fats and processed foods. Here is an example of a heart-healthy diet:
Fruits and Vegetables: Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables can provide antioxidants and essential nutrients that support cardiovascular health. Aim to include at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
Whole Grains: Whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread, are rich in fiber and can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Healthy Fats: Include healthy fats in your diet, such as those found in olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fatty fish like salmon. These fats can help reduce inflammation and support heart health.
Lean Proteins: Choose lean protein sources, such as chicken, turkey, fish, legumes, and tofu, instead of red meat.
Low-Fat Dairy: Choose low-fat dairy products, such as skim milk and low-fat yogurt, to reduce your intake of saturated fat.
Limit Salt and Added Sugars: Reduce your intake of salt and added sugars, which can increase the risk of heart disease. Try to limit your daily intake of salt to less than 2,300 milligrams and added sugars to less than 10% of your daily calories.
Overall, a heart-healthy diet emphasizes whole foods, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, while limiting processed foods, unhealthy fats, and added sugars.
Lastly, there are two types of fat listed on food labels, saturated fats and trans fats, AKA trans fatty acids. Both trans-fat and saturated fat can negatively affect your cholesterol by raising LDL “bad” cholesterol and lowering HDL “good” cholesterol. This trend increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
It is best to eat whole-foods (foods not processed) or minimally processed foods. Let’s rank the level of processing according to the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics:
- Minimally processed foods are foods simply prepped for convenience and include foods like fresh blueberries, cut vegetables, and roasted nuts.
- Foods processed at their peak to lock in nutritional quality and freshness are foods like canned tomatoes or tuna, frozen fruit, and frozen vegetables.
- Foods with ingredients added for flavor and texture like sweeteners, spices, oils, colors & preservatives include jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt, or cake mixes.
- Some of the most heavily processed foods include ready to eat foods like crackers, chips, deli meat, frozen or premade meals like frozen pizza and microwavable dinners.
So, what are examples of whole foods? Think of food that you see and recognize as one that exists in nature, for example, nuts and seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables like avocados, lettuces, apples, cucumbers, snap peas, etc. It’s ok to occasionally consume lightly processed foods. Just be mindful of added sugars, excess sodium, types of fats present. Avoid eating highly processed foods like white bread, snack mixes, chips, crackers, frozen pizza, fast foods, commercially baked goods, soda and other sweetened beverages.
One of the greatest benefits of eating whole foods is their retention of nutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber. They are considered nutrient dense foods that will help prevent chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, optimize weight, improve gut health, and create a stronger immune system.