Get the Facts About Hyperlipidemia: 4 Crucial Questions, Answered

Hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol) can stem from genetic causes, but the majority of the time, it results from lifestyle choices and environmental factors. As it causes no symptoms itself, it’s vital that health care practitioners routinely screen for this silent condition. Lifestyle changes involving diet and physical activity form part of any successful hyperlipidemia treatment plan, and the use of proven supplements can be a highly effective complementary treatment.

More frequently referred to as high cholesterol, hyperlipidemia is the medical term used to describe unusually elevated blood levels of lipids (fat molecules). Though it’s possible to inherit hyperlipidemia, most cases can be traced back to lifestyle choices and environmental factors. Hyperlipidemia itself causes no symptoms, but it does adversely impact your health—most notably by increasing your risk of developing coronary artery disease.

Read on to learn how hyperlipidemia develops, 14 risk factors for hyperlipidemia, how doctors diagnose hyperlipidemia (as well as the different types), and natural treatments for hyperlipidemia.

1. How Does Hyperlipidemia Develop?

To understand how high cholesterol develops, you must first have a basic grasp of some essential facts about cholesterol itself. Cholesterol, a type of fat made in the liver, makes vital contributions to the functioning of the human brain, development of membranes surrounding cells, production of hormones, and storage of vitamins.

In order to travel through the bloodstream, cholesterol pairs with proteins to form lipoproteins. There are two forms of lipoproteins—high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL)—each of which carry out different functions.

  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL): Because LDL cholesterol has been linked to the development of cardiovascular disease, it’s known as “bad cholesterol.” LDL cholesterol moves cholesterol molecules through your arteries, and when levels get too high, fatty deposits begin to build up on the walls of your arteries. This leads to atherosclerosis, the hardening or narrowing of the arteries, which in turn raises your risk of heart disease.
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL): HDL cholesterol, or “good cholesterol,” can actually counterbalance the negative effects of LDL cholesterol. That’s because HDL transports unused cholesterol molecules back to the liver, where they can be excreted. This prevents the development of high blood cholesterol levels and the associated adverse health outcomes, such as heart attack and coronary heart disease.

If your doctor elects to perform a lipid profile, they will likely measure your triglyceride levels too. Your body stores any calories not required for immediate energy needs in the form of triglycerides. Regularly consuming more calories than necessary to fuel your body, particularly if you consume a diet high in carbohydrates, is likely to result in high triglyceride levels (technically speaking, hypertriglyceridemia).

High cholesterol levels in the blood, as touched on in our discussion of LDL cholesterol, causes deposits of fat to accumulate in the blood vessels. As these deposits grow, they can restrict blood flow through the arteries. If a deposit spontaneously breaks loose, it can create a clot that triggers a heart attack or stroke.

This makes it important to monitor and manage your cholesterol levels. For HDL cholesterol, this means keeping your levels at or above a certain threshold while for LDL cholesterol, it means making sure they do not rise too high. Optimal levels for total, HDL, and LDL cholesterol as well as triglycerides are impacted by whether or not you have heart disease, diabetes, or other conditions that put you at higher risk of developing high cholesterol.

The guidelines for each category are as follows:

  • Overall cholesterol
    • Optimal: Under 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
    • Concerning: 200-239 mg/dL
    • High: 240 mg/dL and higher
  • HDL cholesterol
    • Optimal: 60 mg/dL and higher
    • Adequate: 50-59 mg/dL for women and 40-59 mg/dL for men
    • Low: Under 50 mg/dL for women and 40 mg/dL for men
  • LDL cholesterol:
    • Optimal for those with heart disease or diabetes: Under 70 mg/dL
    • Optimal for those at risk of heart disease: Under 100 mg/dL
    • Adequate for those with no heart disease, concerning for those with heart disease: 100-129 mg/dL
    • Concerning for those with no heart disease, high for those with heart disease: 120-159 mg/dL
    • High for those with no heart disease, very high for those with heart disease: 160-189 mg/dL
    • Very high: 190 mg/dL and higher
  • Triglycerides:
    • Optimal: Under 150 mg/dL
    • Concerning: 150-199 mg/dL
    • High: 200-499 mg/dL
    • Very high: 500 mg/dL and higher

Making Sense of Your Cholesterol Levels

2. What Factors Raise Your Risk of Hyperlipidemia?

As we covered in the last section, hyperlipidemia results from an unbalanced ratio of LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol. While certain types of hyperlipidemia have a genetic component (meaning it’s important for you to know if you have a family history of hyperlipidemia), most result from lifestyle choices.

According to a study published in 2017, both age and sex influence a person’s likelihood of developing high levels of LDL cholesterol or triglycerides. The cross-sectional study, which enrolled 2,000 individuals, also found correlations between hyperlipidemia and lifestyle choices such as smoking, physical inactivity, and the consumption of fatty meats. Meanwhile, individuals who ate more fruits and vegetables were less likely to develop high cholesterol.

Research points to other risk factors as well, such as having a large waist circumference and consuming excessive quantities of alcohol. There are also links between elevated cholesterol levels and several health conditions, such as: kidney disease, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and decreased thyroid activity. Certain medications affect cholesterol levels too, like steroids, progestin, retinoids, diuretics, and in some cases, beta blockers.

Other factors shown to raise your risk of developing hyperlipidemia include:

  • Sedentary lifestyle: Failing to engage in physical activity on a routine basis can skew your cholesterol levels. It appears that exercise increases production of HDL cholesterol and increases the size of LDL cholesterol molecules, rendering them less harmful.
  • Use of tobacco products: Scientists have observed that smoking cigarettes injures blood vessel walls, which increases the odds that fat will build up on them. Smoking also appears to adversely impact HDL cholesterol levels.
  • Consumption of saturated and trans fats: Studies show that regularly eating foods that contain saturated fats (for instance, fatty meats) and trans fats (commonly included in processed foods like crackers, microwave popcorn, cookies, and more), leads to higher cholesterol levels.
  • Blood sugar levels: Analysis reveals a connection between high blood sugar and high levels of very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), a particularly unhealthy type of cholesterol, as well as lower levels of HDL cholesterol.
  • Body fat percentage: Researchers have also found a link between how much body fat a person has and their likelihood of having hyperlipidemia.
  • Overall physiology: As you age, your liver becomes less effective at removing LDL cholesterol, making you more likely to develop hyperlipidemia.

14 Hyperlipidemia Risk Factors

3. How Do Doctors Diagnose Hyperlipidemia?

Hyperlipidemia itself causes no noticeable symptoms, which is why it’s important for doctors to routinely check cholesterol levels, particularly for individuals who have a higher risk of developing the condition.

They do this, as touched on previously, with a test called a lipid panel. This simple blood test allows doctors to measure your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. In order to ensure accurate results, your physician may ask that you fast for between 8 and 12 hours leading up to the blood draw.

However, recent research trends toward a consensus that fasting may not be necessary. According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2019, fasting prior to a lipid profile produced negligible differences to total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol levels. Triglyceride levels were consistently slightly higher for participants who did not fast.

The study enrolled close to 8,300 participants, all of whom had documented cardiovascular risk. Each participant had fasting and nonfasting lipid profiles done with a minimum of 1 month’s time in between the tests. The fasting protocol used required them to abstain from eating or drinking anything except water for 8 hours before the test. By following participants for a median of 3 years, the authors were able to determine that whether or not individuals fasted prior to the lipid profile did little to impact doctors’ ability to predict their risk of future health problems. This is exciting news not only because just about everyone dreads fasting, but more significantly, because fasting can cause issues for older individuals as well as those with diabetes.

5 Different Types of Hyperlipidemia

Experts have categorized the different types of hyperlipidemia that have a genetic component based on the different fats involved in each as well as how each affects the body.

  1. Type I, hyperlipidemia familial lipoprotein lipase deficiency: This inherited condition interferes with the mechanisms by which the body breaks down fats. It can cause abdominal pain, chronic pancreatic infections, and swelling of the liver and the spleen. It’s one of the more severe types of hyperlipidemia, and tends to develop during childhood.
  2. Type IIa, familial hypercholesterolemia, and type IIb, familial combined hyperlipidemia: Both type IIa and type IIb lead to elevated levels of LDL cholesterol. As the names of these types indicate, they do have a genetic component. They’re also one of the few types that can cause visible symptoms—specifically, deposits of fat under the skin and near the eyes. Both types put individuals at increased risk of heart problems.
  3. Type III, familial dysbetalipoproteinemia: This type involves increased total cholesterol and triglyceride levels in combination with decreased HDL levels. It, too, can cause visible symptoms—orange or yellow discoloration of the palms and the development of yellowish deposits of lipids in the skin over the elbows and knees. This type also raises your risk of cardiovascular disease.
  4. Type IV, familial hypertriglyceridemia: This type is differentiated from the others by the fact that it involves elevated levels of triglycerides, not cholesterol. It has been linked to obesity, high blood glucose, and high insulin levels. Typically, this condition remains unnoticed until early adulthood.
  5. Type V, mixed familial hyperlipoproteinemia: This type is quite similar to type I, but it also involves elevated levels of VLDL cholesterol. It’s quite common among patients diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.

Hyperlipidemia without a genetic component, also known as acquired hyperlipidemia, tends to mimic the forms described above.

4. Are There Natural Treatments for Hyperlipidemia?

There are a variety of prescription drugs on the market that can decrease cholesterol and triglyceride levels, such as:

  • Statins
  • Bile-acid-bindingresins
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitors
  • Fibrates
  • Niacin

While these drugs do effectively treat hyperlipidemia, they can cause seriously unpleasant side effects. Statins, the first option most doctors will try, have been known to cause muscle aches, digestive upset and mental cloudiness. In rare cases, they can also cause liver damage and rhabdomyolysis, a serious condition that results in intense muscle pain, liver damage, and if left untreated, kidney failure and death.

Depending on which type of hyperlipidemia you have, as well as the results of your lipid profile, it’s possible that lifestyle changes and natural cholesterol treatments will allow you to avoid the use of potentially harmful prescription drugs. And even if a drug is necessary to manage your risk of more serious health problems like a heart attack or stroke, lifestyle shifts will still be an important part of your overall treatment plan.

Here are five lifestyle changes and natural treatments that can bring your cholesterol and triglyceride levels into the healthy range.

1. Develop a Healthy Diet

There’s no one right way to eat, but there are certain science-backed elements you can use to build a healthy diet that works for you.

When it comes to lowering bad cholesterol levels and raising good ones, the fats you eat make a big difference. Saturated fats found in red meat, bacon, and sausage and trans fats found in fried and processed foods are particularly problematic. Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, have a wealth of heart-health benefits. Fatty cold-water fish like salmon and mackerel contain plenty of these good fats, as do walnuts and flaxseeds.

It’s also important to consume plenty of soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels. Load up on fiber-rich vegetables and fruits, legumes, and oats.

2. Engage in Physical Activity

Researchers have found that your physical activity levels have a pronounced impact on your HDL cholesterol levels. The more you exercise, the better those levels will be. And the less you exercise, the lower they’ll drop.

It appears that for cholesterol-management purposes, you should shoot for 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise on 3 or 4 days of the week. Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise total per week.

If you have the time necessary to try swimming laps at the pool or joining a game of pick-up basketball, that’s wonderful. But finding ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, like biking to work or picking up the pace when you take your dog for a walk, can also help you hit that physical activity threshold.

3. Stop Smoking

As mentioned earlier, smoking causes HDL cholesterol levels to fall and triglyceride levels to rise. Furthermore, it independently increases your risk of developing heart disease. If you’re a current smoker, no matter which type of high cholesterol you have, quitting will be an important part of your treatment plan.

As you’re almost certainly aware, it can be quite a challenge to quit. It may be helpful to talk to your doctor about strategies for doing so, like using a nicotine patch, or to seek support from others who have successfully kicked the habit.

4. Evaluate Your Weight

There can be a connection between body weight (particularly fat mass) and cholesterol levels. Research has shown that by adopting dietary strategies designed to produce sustainable weight loss, individuals were able to raise their HDL cholesterol levels and lower their LDL cholesterol levels.

Learn more about strategies for pursuing healthy weight loss here.

5. Incorporate Proven Supplements

If you’re committed to pursuing natural methods of lowering your cholesterol, you can find more in-depth advice about proven methods for doing so, as well as the rationale behind choosing a natural approach, in this article.

For our purposes, it will suffice to say that supplements can play a very important role in naturally addressing hyperlipidemia.

For instance, compelling research has revealed that taking an essential amino acid supplement can produce highly desirable results on cholesterol levels.

Studies have shown that essential amino acids, which stimulate the synthesis of the proteins that transport lipids out of the liver as well as those that flush fatty acids into safe storage areas, can lower levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, VLDL cholesterol, and triglycerides in the liver as well as the bloodstream. These results have been seen with a dosage schedule of two 11-gram doses, twice a day.

These all-natural, completely safe compounds bring benefits for your overall health and—it’s important to note—they can be combined with statins without any ill effects. In fact, they actually make them more effective, per the findings of an Italian research team.

If you’re curious about amino acid supplementation, this primer is a great place to begin.

5 Natural Ways to Address Hyperlipidemia

Conclusion

Hyperlipidemia is the medical term for high blood levels of lipids. It can stem from genetic causes, but the majority of the time, it results from behavior choices and environmental factors such as an overly sedentary lifestyle, the use of tobacco products, or excessive alcohol consumption.

As it causes no symptoms itself, it’s vital that health care practitioners routinely screen for this silent condition, which has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

There are a variety of prescription medications available that can be used to get cholesterol levels under control, but they can cause unpleasant side effects. And even if the benefits of using one of those drugs outweighs the risks, it’s still important to make lifestyle changes such as developing a healthy diet that facilitates lower levels of LDL cholesterol and higher levels of HDL cholesterol as well increasing physical activity. It can also be quite valuable to incorporate supplements with proven benefits for bringing cholesterol levels into a healthy range, such as essential amino acids.

What Everyone Should Know About B-Type Natriuretic Peptide and Congestive Heart Failure

B-type natriuretic peptide is a hormone produced by the heart ventricles in response to pressure changes linked to heart failure. By testing BNP levels, doctors can screen for heart disease and assess the efficacy of heart disease treatments. Learn what to expect from a test and how to keep your BNP levels in the healthy range.

Brain natriuretic peptide, commonly called B-type natriuretic peptide or, even more succinctly, BNP, is a hormone produced by the heart ventricles (the pumping chambers of the heart) in response to pressure changes linked to heart failure. Since its discovery in the late 1980s, it has earned a place of prominence in the medical world, as it can be used as a biomarker to facilitate the diagnosis of congestive heart failure (CHF).

Researchers have found that B-type natriuretic peptide measurements can be used not only to help with the diagnosis of heart failure, but also to predict future cardiovascular events and the risk that such events will prove fatal. This is part of what’s known in clinical practice as risk stratification: the separation of patients into low risk, rising risk, and high risk in order to develop the most effective treatment plan possible.

According to an article published in Circulation, a journal published by the American Heart Association, BNP levels are “a powerful marker” for cardiovascular risk stratification. “In a recent study of 78 patients referred to a heart failure clinic, BNP showed a significant correlation to the heart failure survival score,” the authors wrote. “In addition, changes in plasma BNP levels were significantly related to changes in limitations of physical activities and were a powerful predictor of the functional status deterioration.” They mention, too, that measurements of BNP levels taken when patients came in through the emergency department could be used to predicate how patients would fare once they were discharged, with higher BNP levels strongly associated with worse prognoses.

There’s some evidence as well that B-type natriuretic peptide concentrations have predictive value for other cardiac conditions, such as acute coronary syndromes and pulmonary embolism.

It’s rare that a relatively new diagnostic measurement results in such rapid and widespread changes to clinical practice. Read on to learn exactly what B-type natriuretic peptide is and how measurements of BNP levels, which can be analyzed with a simple blood test, allow doctors to evaluate complicated elements of cardiovascular health.

What Is B-Type Natriuretic Peptide?

In scientific terms, B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) is a polypeptide made of 32 different amino acids. When the muscles of the heart stretch excessively in response to changes in blood volume caused by heart failure, they release BNP along with its inactive, 76-amino acid synthetic byproduct, known as N-terminal prohormone BNP, or NT-proBNP.

BNP is one of four natriuretic peptides. All the members of this protein hormone family are secreted by components of the circulatory system. Atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) is secreted by the atria of the heart (the upper pumping chambers), as its name indicates. BNP comes from the larger, stronger lower chambers, while C-type natriuretic peptide (CNP) is generated primarily in the blood vessels. The highest levels of dendroaspis natriuretic peptide, or D-type natriuretic peptide (DNP), the most recently discovered member of the family, have been found in blood plasma but are believed to be secreted by the heart.

All four natriuretic peptides appear to help regulate circulation. So far, experts have compiled the most data on the actions of ANP and BNP, which are jointly known as the cardiac natriuretic peptides. Both cause the blood vessels to dilate, allowing more blood to flow through them and lowering the risk of clot formation. They also help the kidneys flush out higher quantities of water as well as salt (a process called natriuresis).

Furthermore, researchers have found that ANP and BNP downshift the production of hormones like adrenaline, angiotensin, and aldosterone that narrow blood vessels, increase fluid retention, or elevate the heart rate.

The overall effect of the actions of ANP and BNP—namely, relaxing blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure, and improving renal function—ensures that the heart does not have to overtax itself. That’s why when the heart is under stress, the body increases levels of these protective peptides.

What is B-Type Natriuretic Peptide?

How B-Type Natriuretic Peptide Relates to Heart Disease

As touched on in preceding sections, pressure changes inside the heart stimulate release of both B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) and N-terminal (NT)-pro hormone BNP (NT-proBNP). Because those pressure changes tend to be indicative of either heart failure or some other type of cardiac malfunction, experts have proposed that both BNP and NT-proBNP levels might have prognostic value as a simple, inexpensive method of screening for cardiovascular diseases, particularly chronic heart failure.

The Effects of Chronic Heart Failure on the Body

Chronic heart failure, also called congestive heart failure (CHF), occurs when the ventricles (the walls of the heart chambers) become either too weak or too tense to properly pump blood throughout the body. Two of the top underlying causes are coronary artery diseases and high blood pressure. Other causes include heart valve diseases and, less frequently, diseases of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathies).

The heart’s purpose is to draw in the blood that has been circulating through the veins and push it back out into the arteries. As the muscles weaken, the hearts of individuals with CHF cannot contract enough to fully pump blood back into the arteries. As a result, blood begins to collect in the lungs, then the veins, and the tissues of the body do not receive the supply of oxygenated blood they need.

Because of this lack of sufficient oxygen in their bodily tissues, individuals with CHF often feel fatigued and unable to exert themselves physically. Renal function becomes impaired—sometimes permanently—exacerbating the fatigue and making treatment more challenging. The brain suffers from this lack of oxygen-rich blood as well, causing confusion.

The blood collected in the lungs and veins produces its own set of symptoms, beginning with lung function. Shortness of breath is the definitive symptom of CHF. Initially, it only sets in during physical exertion, but as the disease progresses, it transpires while individuals are resting. Advanced CHF can make it impossible for individuals to sleep lying flat—when they do, their shortness of breath can intensify to the point where they are awakened by it. Other ways CHF shows up in the respiratory system include wheezing, coughing, and increased susceptibility to pneumonia. The most severe presentation is acute pulmonary edema, a buildup of fluid in the lungs that requires emergent medical attention.

Other symptoms of CHF include:

  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fluid retention in the feet and legs
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Swelling of the scrotum and penis
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Diminished urine output throughout the day and night
  • Weight loss (cardiac cachexia)

People of all ages can develop chronic, congestive heart failure—even children!  Statistics show close to 5 million Americans currently have CHF, and around 555,000 new diagnoses are made each year.

This serious condition can be fatal, and it’s common for death to occur suddenly. Individuals with CHF experience sudden death at a rate that’s between 9 and 10 times that of the population at large! This makes it vital for doctors to have the means to rapidly and accurately diagnosis CHF.

13 Symptoms That Can Indicate Chronic Heart Failure (CHF)

Using B-Type Natriuretic Peptide to Diagnose Chronic Heart Failure

When it comes to diagnosing CHF in the advanced stages, doctors have a plethora of screening tests at their disposal. By that point, the symptoms will be quite clear, and chest X-rays, electrocardiograms (EKGs), or certain blood tests can confirm a doctor’s suspicion.

Earlier presentations of CHF can be harder to catch, however, as symptoms overlap with those of a number of lung, liver, and kidney diseases. In order to determine the root cause of a patient’s symptoms, doctors historically used an ultrasound test called an echocardiogram, or an echo for short. This safe, typically painless test allows doctors to see the heart muscles at work and to determine its ejection fraction, a measurement of the quantity of blood pumped by the left ventricle with each contraction. The healthy range for ejection fractions is between 50% and 70%.

The downside to echocardiograms is that they can be expensive and may not be available under all circumstances. This is where the value of BNP tests becomes clear. These simple, low-cost blood tests can be carried out bedside in an emergency department if need be. According to experts in the field, about 98% of the times that a BNP test reveals normal levels, it’s accurate to rule out CHF as a diagnosis. This suggests to doctors that they should focus their attention on alternate explanations for shortness of breath or other symptoms that could indicate CHF.

At most facilities, a test revealing BNP levels below 100 picograms per milliliter (pg/ml) is grounds for eliminating CHF as a potential diagnosis. If patients are experiencing kidney failure, the threshold rises to 200 pg/ml.

When tests show high BNP levels, next steps become less certain. This alone does not fully support a CHF diagnosis, as there are other factors that can affect BNP levels, such as:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Lung, kidney, and liver health
  • Blood pressure
  • Thyroid function
  • Cortisol levels
  • Some uncommon tumors
  • Brain hemorrhages
  • Body weight

Certain medications, including diuretics, beta blockers, ace inhibitors, and spironolactone also impact BNP levels.

That said, BNP levels of around 900 pg/ml in individuals between the ages of 50 to 75, or over 1,200 pg/ml for those older than 75 correlate to a diagnosis of CHF 90% of the time. In most cases, patients with high BNP levels who do not have CHF have either severe lung or kidney disease.

BNP levels can not only help doctors make a diagnosis of CHF but also evaluate how far the disease has advanced, develop treatment plans, and determine how patients respond to different interventions. Generally speaking, the higher BNP levels are, the more severe the situation. As treatments take effect, backed up blood begins circulating into the rest of the body once again, and heart muscle cells begin to recover and to secrete less BNP.

A systematic review of clinical trials published in The BMJ looked at how accurate BNP measurements—both initial levels and changes in response to treatments—are for predicting risk of death, myocardial infarction (heart attack), and other cardiovascular events in heart failure patients. The authors determined that BNP has strong prognostic value for heart failure patients at all stages of the disease as well as for asymptomatic patients.

They went as far as to state that their findings raise “important questions concerning the way that heart failure is defined and diagnosed.” The majority of the recent trials and studies they analyzed used ventricular systolic function, expressed in terms of ejection fraction measurements, as the reference standard for the diagnosis of heart failure. “This is despite the fact that it is recognized that 20-50% of patients with heart failure have preserved systolic function,” they wrote. Given those statistics, they propose that BNP may be a superior method for identifying patients who would benefit from treatment for heart disease.

What Factors Impact BNP Levels, Other Than Chronic Heart Failure?

Can B-Type Natriuretic Peptide Levels Be Used to Diagnose Coronary Artery Disease?

When patients have coronary artery disease (CAD) without CHF, the muscles of their heart do not stretch in the way that spurs the release of BNP. If they have extensive coronary artery blockages, however, or active vascular inflammation, this can cause heart muscle cells to become ischemic (oxygen-deprived). Ischemic heart muscles cells also release BNP, though in smaller quantities than when they’re attempting to counterbalance the effects of CHF.

Experts are quite excited about the possible use of BNP values to diagnose CAD, particularly for patients with asymptomatic CAD. As a review published in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine put it, “It would be of great benefit if a simple blood test could identify those most likely to have CAD.” As a follow-up to that screening measure, individuals whose test results indicate they’re likely to have CAD could undergo “more definitive but more invasive tests,” like angiography and stress tests. The authors believe BNP testing “has the potential to reduce cardiac deaths” because its widespread use will let doctors “better target cardioprotective strategies to those who most need them.”

What to Expect from a BNP Test

Now that you have a sense of why experts in the field of cardiovascular health find BNP tests almost endlessly exciting, you may be wondering, what exactly occurs during a BNP test?

As you know, the test measures BNP concentrations in the blood. In clinical practices, doctors are likely to recommend a BNP test when patients have symptoms of chronic heart failure like the classic shortness of breath. This simple, inexpensive test can catch CHF in the early stages before more serious complications develop. BNP tests can also be used to evaluate whether heart disease treatments are having the desired effects.

A BNP test does not require any special preparation, such as fasting. The test involves drawing blood from a vein using a hypodermic needle, so if you feel faint at the sight of blood, you may wish to ask a family member or friend to accompany you and drive you home.

The blood sample will then be sent to a laboratory where machines measure levels of BNP as well as NT-proBNP. This process typically takes between 15 and 20 minutes if the laboratory is located in the same facility where the test was performed. If the blood sample has to be sent to a separate laboratory, it make take up to a week for the results to be ready.

Once a doctor has reviewed the BNP test results, they will let you know whether your levels are high enough to indicate a diagnosis of heart failure. If you already have a confirmed diagnosis of CHF, your doctor will update you on whether your current treatment protocol is working effectively, as evidenced by lower BNP levels.

As touched on earlier, BNP levels under the threshold of 100 pg/ml usually exclude a diagnosis of heart disease. However, normal, healthy BNP levels fluctuate depending on your age and sex.

Normal BNP levels by Age and Sex

5 Expert-Approved Methods for Lowering BNP Levels

If you improve your heart health, your BNP levels will drop. Certain risk factors for heart disease are out of your control, such as a family history of the disease and your underlying genetic makeup. However, there are a variety of steps you can take on your own to address lifestyle-related risk factors known to negatively impact heart health, including:

  1. Stop smoking cigarettes. As you almost certainly know, smoking cigarettes harms your health. Studies have shown it undermines heart health in multiple ways, including raising your blood pressure, decreasing good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, and elevating your heart rate. It can be quite challenging to stop, but the benefits are undeniably worth the effort. After just 1 year, your susceptibility to heart disease drops significantly, and 15 years after cessation, it’s equivalent to that of someone who has never smoked.
  2. Engage in regular physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that adults get at least 2 hours and 3 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, along with at least two strength training sessions. If you find it difficult to fit exercise into your schedule, don’t despair: even three 10-minute sessions daily can add up to make a difference. Try taking a brisk walk or spending time outside gardening. You can also build healthy habits into your day by taking the stairs, parking in the spot furthest from the door, or commuting to work on your bike. Ideally, you should also be finding ways to enhance your fitness by increasing the intensity, frequency, and duration of your workouts.
  3. Prioritize stress management. Scientists have uncovered a clear link between uncontrolled stress and heart disease. The body responds to stress by releasing a hormone called cortisol, which can have a detrimental impact on your cardiovascular health. This is particularly true if stress becomes chronic. Be sure to find ways to manage the stress that inevitably arises as a part of life. Strong research supports the use of mediation and breathwork for this purpose.
  4. Get adequate sleep. Safeguarding your sleep is a vital part of stress management as well as the fortification of your overall health. Unfortunately, findings show that 30% of Americans experience intermittent insomnia, while many more struggle with milder forms of sleep deprivation on a regular basis. Building healthy sleep habits, such as refraining from working or eating in bed as well as using a computer or cell phone too close to your bedtime, can help you get the 7 to 8 hours experts advise for adults.
  5. Supplement with essential amino acids. As mentioned earlier, one of the physiological causes for chronic heart failure (CHF) is the weakening of the heart muscles. Researchers have found that amino acids can help counteract three of the ways that heart failure impairs muscle function: accelerated breakdown of muscle protein, poor regulation of muscle blood flow, and impaired production of cellular energy. Learn more about how to use essential amino acids to increase heart health here.

5 Ways to Lower Your BNP Levels and Enhance the Health of Your Heart

Should You Supplement with the Amino Acid GABA?

Discover the science behind GABA supplements, what this neurotransmitter does, and whether or not it’s effective in treating stress, insomnia, high blood pressure, and anxiety disorders. 

Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid that functions as a neurotransmitter in our brains. Low GABA levels are known to be associated with movement and anxiety disorders, so some people will take GABA supplements to help improve the function of their minds and central nervous systems. Read on to find out how GABA works, and whether or not it may be appropriate for you.

What Is GABA? How Does GABA Work? Where Can You Find It?

GABA is classified as an inhibitory neurotransmitter due to its ability to block certain signals in the brain. GABA decreases activity in the central nervous system and binds with proteins in the brain known as GABA receptors, which creates a calming effect that helps ameliorate feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety. GABA may also help prevent seizures.

Because of these abilities, GABA has become a popular dietary supplement.

For those who want to know how to increase GABA naturally, GABA is found in oolong, black, and green tea, and fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and tempeh. GABA production can be boosted by other foods, including nuts like almonds and walnuts, seafood like halibut and shrimp, whole grains, soy, beans, sunflower seeds, spinach, broccoli, fava, tomatoes, citrus fruits, berries, and cocoa.

Who Should Take GABA Supplements?

The reason people take GABA supplements is to get better access to its calming influence on the brain. GABA supplements are thought to relieve stress, and in so doing improve your overall health, because excess stress can lead to a weakened immune system, poor sleep quality, and a higher risk for anxiety and depression. There are also some health conditions that are associated with lower levels of GABA, so if you have any of the following health concerns, then GABA supplementation may be good for you.

People may need more GABA if they have:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Depression
  • Hypertension
  • Insomnia
  • Panic disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Movement disorders (including Parkinson’s disease)
  • Seizure disorders

Consult a qualified health care professional if you’re on any other medications for these conditions, and ask your doctor if GABA supplements could help manage some of the symptoms associated with these disorders. If you’re considering taking a GABA supplement, read on to find out how upping your intake of GABA affects your brain cells and may help improve your quality of life.

The science behind GABA supplements.

Are GABA Supplements Effective?

Even when supplementing with GABA, research suggests that only small amounts actually make it past the blood-brain barrier and reach your nerve cells. However, when it comes to some of the following uses of GABA, every little bit can count. Here is what the scientific research has to say about the effect of GABA on the human body.

GABA for Anxiety and Depression

This 2003 review on GABA usage for anxiety asserts that GABA is known to counterbalance the affect of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, and plays a role in multiple neurobiological interactions that are relevant to those with anxiety disorders. It supports the use of GABAergic agents in treating anxiety, as does this 2012 article on the GABA system in anxiety and depression cases, which also points out that certain GABAA receptor modulators and GABAB antagonists could serve as potential antidepressants.

GABA for Insomnia

One small study from 2018 tested GABA on participants with insomnia and found that 300 milligrams of GABA taken an hour before going to sleep resulted in reports of people falling asleep faster and noting improved sleep quality in the first 4 weeks after starting GABA treatment. Though there were only 40 participants, these results suggest that effects of GABA supplements in humans may beneficially impact sleep habits.

GABA for High Blood Pressure

There are many studies that have evaluated GABA-containing products and their effectiveness at lowering blood pressure. A 2003 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming fermented milk with GABA helped significantly lower blood pressure levels in participants with elevated blood pressure in 2-4 weeks (compared to the placebo group). And a 2009 study revealed that consuming a GABA-containing chlorella supplement 2 times a day lowered the blood pressure of subjects with borderline hypertension.

GABA for Stress and Fatigue

In 2011 Japanese researchers found that consuming a beverage with either 25 or 50 milligrams of GABA resulted in reduced measurements of physical and mental fatigue during problem-solving tasks, with the higher dose being slightly more effective.

A 2009 study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition showed that consuming chocolate containing 28 milligrams of GABA also reduced stress in participants as they performed a problem-solving test. Yet again in 2012, capsules with 100 milligrams of GABA led to reduced stress during the performance of a mental task. While these are small studies, they nevertheless appear to consistently show that GABA helps reduce stress and fatigue in human beings.

The Potential Side Effects of GABA Supplements

Though the side effects of GABA have not been specifically studied, there have been some reported side effects from people taking GABA supplements, including:

  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sleepiness
  • Upset stomach

Since GABA appears to be useful in treating insomnia, it can cause feelings of sleepiness and shouldn’t be taken before driving or operating heavy machinery until you’re aware of how it affects you in whatever dosage you’re consuming it at.

There is also very little research done on GABA’s interaction potential with other supplements or medications, so it’s recommended that you seek medical advice if you’re currently taking any medication, particularly for insomnia, anxiety, or depression, and make sure that your doctor is aware of this or any other herb, supplement, or over-the-counter drug you’re consuming.

Go Gaga for GABA

GABA is a natural part of our body’s function, and plays an important role as a chemical messenger in our brains. Though the research on GABA as a supplement is somewhat skimpy, there are scientifically founded indications that it may help reduce anxiety, stress, high blood pressure, and insomnia.

It’s not just “supplements or bust” with GABA however, as practicing yoga can also lead to an increase of GABA levels, up to 27%! With a little yoga, some fermented foods, and the right GABA supplement, you could have all the bases covered when it comes to reducing the symptoms of certain dangerous medical conditions, and getting your brain in the right frame of mind.

Foods That Are High in Arginine

Arginine is a conditionally essential amino acid that helps support cardiovascular health, improves kidney function, and boosts the immune system. Explore its many functions, as well as which foods are good sources for arginine if you’re looking to give your body a stronger supply.

Arginine (also called L-arginine) is a conditionally essential amino acid that helps support cardiovascular health, improves kidney function, and boosts the immune system. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins in our bodies. Essential amino acids must come from our food sources or from ingesting a supplement, but conditionally or semi-essential amino acids are on the edge. Arginine, for example, is essential during our early years of childhood growth, but is usually nonessential in normally functioning healthy adults. However, because arginine is so valuable for so many processes in the body, foods high in arginine can help shore up your stores, and may be even more important in certain medical circumstances.

This article will explore what arginine does in the human body, who could use more of it, and which foods are good sources for arginine if you’re looking to give your body a stronger supply.

Arginine: Its Role in the Body

Here are some of the health benefits that might result from an extra intake of arginine. Research is still being conducted on this amino acid and how supplementing or concentrating it might help treat certain conditions, and so far the results look promising.

Blood and Heart Health

Arginine supplements are used to treat conditions such as excessive inflammation and chronic migraines. Arginine creates nitric oxide, which relaxes our blood vessels, improves blood flow, and therefore brings cardiovascular aid for certain people and conditions. For example, those with peripheral arterial disease, angina, heart disease, and even erectile dysfunction can find benefit from increased arginine. Arginine is also associated with shortening post-surgery recovery time and helps heal injuries.

The Immune System

Studies are beginning to show arginine’s immune-boosting effects, particularly with modulating some symptoms of herpes (flare-ups) and HIV (excessive weight loss), and there have even been correlations shown between low circulating arginine and cases of trauma and cancer. Though more research is needed, it’s a valuable discovery to know that arginine is often missing when the body is experiencing traumatic events.

Kidney Functioning

Not only is arginine helpful in assisting kidney function after transplantation, but it also appears to reduce kidney inflammation. Arginine is often studied in relation to kidney functioning to try to isolate which conditions it helps best and whether or not there’s any potential harm from enhanced levels of arginine. As a natural player on the body’s chemical stage, it’s a particularly safe facet to explore.

The Research Continues

Arginine has been studied in the contexts of helping diabetes, obesity, male fertility, hypertension, dementia, and cancer, and the research goes on still. Scientists and doctors work to pinpoint the best application of arginine treatment and to better define its powers of influence. As a naturally created amino acid that helps us grow and keeps our bodies functioning, it’s a promising reserve for testing.

Foods High in Arginine

Short of supplementation, you can always get arginine from certain natural food sources. So which foods are arginine foods, and are they easy to incorporate in your diet? Short answer to that last question: yes, these arginine-rich foods will be easy to find and to eat (you’ve surely tried a few if not all of them already). As for which foods you should eat more of if you want to up your arginine content? Take a look at the list of foods below and start thinking about which ones you’d like to incorporate into your diet as well as your dietary intake.

Foods high in the amino acid arginine.

Turkey

Since arginine is derived in the body from protein, any high-protein food will help, but turkey breast in particular has such a substantial amount of arginine that it’s considered the best source around. With a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins to boot, one cooked turkey breast provides 16 grams of arginine.

Sunflower Seeds

Seeds and nuts have a fair amount of arginine, with sunflower and sesame seeds both contributing 2.4 grams of arginine per 100 grams of seeds. While they’re a tad low in arginine, they definitely make up in balance by providing a high amount of the essential amino acid lysine along with your arginine intake, so you don’t run the risk of overbalancing. Lysine helps absorb any excess of arginine, and will act as a check on keeping your amount of arginine within its optimal healthy levels.

Pork Loin

Another high-protein food, and with it comes another high contribution to your arginine content. Pork loin is one of the leaner cuts of pork you can get, so you’re not sacrificing one aspect of your health to favor another (balance is always key). Pork loin has 14 grams of arginine per rib, just second under the above-listed turkey breast.

Pumpkin Seeds

What did we say above about seeds, that some aren’t that impressive in the arginine department? Well, here’s an even better option then: a cup of pumpkin seeds can give you nearly 7 grams of arginine, as well as the minerals zinc and iron. Pumpkin seeds are easy to snack on and a great arginine-rich food for vegans or vegetarians who don’t eat animal products. Plus, they’re trail-mix-worthy and can be flavored sweet or salty depending on your taste.

Chicken

Chicken is a staple of a diet rich in protein and low in fat. One chicken breast can contain up to 9 grams of arginine and can be combined easily with other potent sources of vitamins and minerals like beans and vegetables in meals and stews.

Chickpeas

Another kind of chick, this time chickpeas, or as they’re also known, garbanzo beans, offer up fiber and protein (especially for those who don’t eat meat). A single cooked cup of chickpeas has at least 12 grams of fiber, over 14 grams of protein, and 1.3 grams of arginine. Enjoy it as hummus and know that it’s providing you with that little boost of arginine you’re looking for.

Peanuts

With vitamin E, vitamin B3, niacin, and folate, a cup of peanuts also gives you over 4 grams of arginine. Pine nuts, too, contain over 3 grams of arginine per cup, and a good helping of mixed nuts will almost certainly give you a fair amount of arginine, as there are levels of arginine in almonds, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and pecans. Go nuts with nuts if you’re looking for foods high in arginine. Be squirrelly with them!

Soybeans

Another great protein and arginine source for non-meat eaters, soybeans and other soy products like tofu and tempeh provide potassium and magnesium. Soybeans specifically come with 4.6 grams of arginine per cup, and soybeans are also loaded with lysine for help balancing arginine.

Spirulina

Derived from a seawater blue-green algae, spirulina can be purchased in powdered form and added for its nutrients to smoothies and other foods. A cup of spirulina contains 4.6 grams of arginine, as well as iron, niacin, calcium, and potassium. You’ll probably use spirulina sparingly, but when you do know that it brings you that much more arginine along with its other nutrients.

Lentils

Another great vegetarian/vegan source of protein and fiber, arginine can be found in lentils up to 1.3 grams per cup, with lysine again to pack a double punch of amino acid intake. Lentils also pair excellently with the meats on this list for the carnivores who are interested—there’s an arginine-rich meal in the making here.

Dairy Products

Dairy products are sources of protein and thus arginine too. Just 4 ounces of cheddar cheese has a small amount of arginine, 0.25 grams, and a cup of milk has 0.2 grams, just a little bit more arginine for your effort. Some good news: if your dairy is coming in the form of ice cream, chocolate syrup has 0.9 grams of arginine per 100 grams, so add a little of it on top, or have some chocolate milk while you’re at it, and know that you’re getting some arginine there too.

Watermelon Seeds

We’ve saved the most curious for last: though most of us spit out or avoid the seeds in our watermelons, they contain over 5 grams of arginine per cup, so feel free to swallow them knowing they’re doing you no harm and also bringing you a little bit good—you can’t lose!

Arginine Foods and You

The value of gaining more arginine from foods is that it’s as natural as the healthy production of arginine within us. Not only is arginine deficiency blessedly low due to its levels in our food, but if you’re gaining a bit more of it through dietary intake, you’re not very likely to get too much of it either. With evidence showing arginine helps blood flow and heart health along with the immune response to cancer, it’s a natural amino acid to value and desire.

However: do remember that if you’re looking for even more arginine in supplement form (as with any sort of dietary supplement), it’s important not to go overboard. Too much of any one vitamin, mineral, or amino acid might have the unwanted effect of overtaxing a specific part of the body. Whether it’s by causing an excessive clean-up in the liver or kidneys, or overwhelming the other chemicals in the body that your chosen one works in concert with, you don’t want to throw yourself off kilter.

Look into well-rounded multivitamins or comprehensive essential amino acid blends that offer a measured balance of your body’s needs. Extremely high levels of arginine are no more desirable than low levels of arginine. Instead, what’s important is to have a healthy arginine ratio in the body that will meet your needs but not overwhelm your system. Eat well, supplement well, and prosper!

Is Quinoa a Complete Protein? It May Just Be the Missing Link in Your Diet!

It can be hard for vegans and vegetarians to find complete proteins that meat and fish eaters source with ease. Enter Quinoa (KEEN-wah), a complete protein that some hail as a supergrain.

Vegetarians, vegans, and even the meatless Monday crowd crave the same quality nutrition that the carnivore next door gets without breaking a sweat. Which leaves many of us wondering, is quinoa a complete protein? While it’s not difficult to get garden-variety nutrients in a plant-based diet, it can be a challenge to source the complete proteins found in animal products. Enter quinoa (KEEN-wah), a complete protein source that some hail as a supergrain.

We need 20 amino acids in different combinations to create the proteins that fuel our cells and power our lives. For instance, your heart is made of 95% amino acids. But our bodies alone can only create 11 of them. The other nine essential amino acids must come from what we eat, and quinoa is one of the plant sources that supplies each of these “building blocks of life.”

Is Quinoa a Complete Protein?

Quinoa is technically not a grain, but a seed. Regardless of classification, it’s enjoyed much like other grain-based foods.

While most whole grains have some amino acids, they tend to lack the amino acid lysine or contain only trace amounts of it and don’t deliver enough protein to sustain our essential amino acid requirements. The amino acid profile of quinoa, however, can be considered complete.

Quinoa offers up a good amount of lysine and the other eight essential amino acids to help support our bodies’ amino acid needs. And research shows that the digestion of quinoa protein is comparable to that of other high-quality protein foods.

Here’s the possible catch: quinoa appears to be a high-quality protein, but that is in terms of quinoa protein isolate, which is actually of low quantity in quinoa seeds. The amino acid profile of quinoa is, for instance, significantly inferior to specially formulated essential amino acid mixtures. So, by all means, add quinoa to your diet to feed your body the essential amino acids it craves, but, if you are concerned that you aren’t meeting your protein needs, then consider supplementing with essential amino acids according to your nutritional needs.

Is quinoa a complete source of protein?

The protein in quinoa far surpasses the protein content of its grainy competitors. Take incomplete proteins such as rice and barley, for example. One cup of quinoa contains 8 grams of protein, while brown rice has only 5 grams, and barley less than that at 3.5 grams.

Is quinoa a complete protein?

On par with rice and couscous, quinoa has a nutty taste with a slight toothsomeness. For a savory approach, some toss in bay leaves, thyme, garlic powder, and other herbs and spices, while the breakfast crowd might like it a bit sweeter, boiling it with milk, stirring in fruits and nuts with a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg. You can add quinoa to soups, salads, and stir-fries, or pop it like popcorn. Here are some recipes to try.

Harvest from an Ancient Table

A seed that comes to us courtesy of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, quinoa means “the mother grain” in its original South American tongue, and dates back thousands of years. It was also called  “The gold of the Incas” because, with a belly full, warriors as old as 50 had the fortitude to scale the Andes, fight amid the harsh terrain, and vanquish their enemies.

Though this superfood remained a secret tucked away in a distant land for millennia, word has gotten around. These days quinoa crops are sprouting up in North America, China, France, and India with production picking up in Africa and the Middle East. There are 1,800 types of quinoa in a rainbow of colors, but only a few made the leap to the U.S. The white variety is milder, while the red and black boast more nutrients. The harvested seeds of Chenopodium quinoa undergo processing to remove natural saponins, a bitter-tasting husk that acts as a natural pesticide to the maturing plant.

A Cornucopia of Nutritional Goodies

Apart from being one of the best sources of protein, quinoa has small amounts of omega-3 essential fatty acids, is non-GMO, and is usually organically grown, which makes it a good find. Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti took a selfie with her pouch of quinoa aboard the International Space Station. She chose this plant protein as one of her “bonus foods,” pairing it with mackerel. Quinoa’s also held in lofty esteem by NASA scientists, who’ve explored growing it in outer space, as it reproduces and stores well, while offering nutritional bang for the buck. Aside from protein, which supports muscle, hair, collagen, enzymes, and antibodies, and fiber that helps our bodies absorb nutrients, quinoa is a strong source of:

  • Manganese (58% of the RDA): A friend to the brain, nerves connective tissue, bones, blood, hormones, and metabolism.
  • Magnesium (30% of the RDA): Gets the biochemical party started and helps with energy production.
  • Phosphorous (28% of the RDA): Teams up with calcium to give strength and structure to bones and teeth.
  • Folate (19% of the RDA): A B vitamin that hooks up with your DNA chain and percolates other genetic material.
  • Copper (18% of the RDA): Links up with iron to help form red blood cells and keep blood vessels, nerves, immune system, and bones ticking like the Swiss.
  • Iron (15% of the RDA): Important for healthy blood and transfer of oxygen from lungs and tissues.
  • Zinc (13% of the RDA): Big on cell division, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates. If you can smell and taste, thank zinc.
  • Vitamins B1, B2, and B6 (more than 10% of the RDA): The Bs power energy level, brain function, and cell metabolism.
  • Potassium (9% of the RDA): Regulates fluid balance, muscle contractions, and nerve signals. A diet rich in potassium may help reduce blood pressure and water retention, and help prevent stroke, osteoporosis, and kidney stones.

Is quinoa a complete source of protein?

 

Fighting Disease Like an Incan Warrior

There’s a saying: Fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. And while quinoa is mainly known for the ways it supports body function, it’s increasingly becoming appreciated—in the never-say-die spirit of its Incan ancestry—for its warrior-like attributes and health benefits.

Antioxidants? Check!

Quinoa ranks high in antioxidants, which help neutralize free radicals in the body. Free radicals are believed to contribute to aging and certain diseases. A study looked at antioxidant levels in five cereals, three pseudo-cereals, and two legumes, and found quinoa to have the highest antioxidant content of them all. When added to gluten-free goods, quinoa enhanced their polyphenol content, helping to stave off certain cancers, osteoporosis, and other unwanted health effects.

Quinoa May Boost Metabolism

A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition showed that using quinoa instead of typical gluten-free breads and pastas significantly reduced blood sugar, insulin, and triglyceride levels. And research with rats indicated that quinoa in a diet high in fructose almost completely inhibited the negative effects of the fructose.

Good for Low Glycemic Diets

The glycemic index measures how foods raise your blood-sugar levels. Foods that are high on the glycemic index can stimulate hunger and lead to overeating and obesity. Obesity can be a culprit in type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Quinoa has a glycemic index of 53, which is considered low and can be an ally in blood sugar control.

Feel Fuller, Eat Less

Quinoa has been associated with weight loss by boosting metabolism and reducing appetite, possibly because its high-fiber content may increase feelings of fullness, causing one to eat less, though more research is needed to help scientists better understand quinoa’s effects on metabolism.

A Hedge Against Diabetes

Studies of Peruvian grains and legumes found that quinoa, its cousin kañiwa, and other traditional crops from Peru’s Andes have the potential to manage type 2 diabetes and associated hypertension.

Putting the Kibosh on Cholesterol

High in soluble fiber, quinoa can help bring down blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, and increase a sense of fullness, which can, potentially, help with weight loss.

Highly Regarded, but No Halo

Quinoa attributes are undisputed, but even with a glycemic index of 53, it is somewhat high in carbs, and not as well-suited to a low-carb diet.

Another potential hitch is quinoa’s naturally occurring phytic acid, which can make it harder for the body to absorb all of its rich minerals. Soaking and/or sprouting the seed prior to cooking can reduce that effect. Other than that, though, it’s pretty hot stuff. In fact, leaders are looking at mass-produced quinoa as a way to feed the world as the effects of climate change take hold. Given its high level of genetic diversity, quinoa crops are highly resilient to extremes in soil, rainfall, temperature, and altitude, and tolerant to frost, drought, and salinity, according to a 2016 report.

So, if you haven’t already, maybe it’s time to up your protein intake and add some quinoa to the menu.

The High Blood Pressure Heart Disease Connection

Hypertension occurs when blood pressure is consistently too high. What is the high blood pressure heart disease connection? Find out here!

Nicknamed the silent killer due to its hidden symptoms, high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) occurs when blood pressure is consistently too high. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), approximately half of all Americans have high blood pressure, and many are unaware they have it.

With every beat of your heart, blood pumps through arteries, veins, and capillaries. Two forces create the pressure we refer to as blood pressure: systolic pressure as blood travels out into the arteries, and diastolic pressure as the heart rests between heartbeats. You’ve likely seen these two types of pressure measured in a blood pressure reading.

  • The top number is your systolic pressure, and the normal range is less than 120 mm Hg.
  • The bottom number is your diastolic blood pressure, with less than 80 mm Hg being the targeted range.

What is the high blood pressure heart disease connection? High blood pressure makes the heart and blood vessels work harder and less efficiently, damaging the tissues inside the arteries over time. LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) forms plaque along the artery walls and narrows the arteries, raising blood pressure. This can ultimately lead to heart disease and heart attack, among other health problems such as kidney disease, sexual dysfunction, and dementia.

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

There are two types of high blood pressure: primary hypertension, which does not have a discernable cause and tends to develop gradually over many years, and secondary hypertension, which tends to appear suddenly and create higher blood pressure compared to primary hypertension. Various lifestyles, conditions, and medications can lead to secondary hypertension. Let’s take a look at the primary risk factors.

Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

While hypertension symptoms typically remain quiet, if your blood pressure is extremely elevated, you may experience the following side effects:

  • Excruciating headache
  • Lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Vision impairment
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Blood in the urine
  • Pounding in your neck, ears, or chest

High blood pressure is considered a “silent killer”

Does High Blood Pressure Cause Heart Disease?

High blood pressure can damage your body for years without showing symptoms, and if it is left untreated, it can lead to disability or a heart attack. Half of the people with uncontrolled high blood pressure die of cardiovascular disease related to poor blood flow and another third die of stroke.

High blood pressure can damage your arteries and heart in the long run. High blood pressure increases the pressure of blood flowing through your arteries, and uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage your heart in many different ways.

Damaged Arteries

High blood pressure can damage the inner lining of your arteries. The fat that you eat enters your bloodstream and collects in the damaged arteries. With time, artery walls become less elastic, and they limit blood flow throughout your body.

Aneurysm

The pressure of blood flowing through a weak artery can form a bulge in the arteries, which is called an aneurysm. Aneurysms are more common in the body’s largest artery (aorta), and they can cause life-threatening internal bleeding.

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease narrows the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle and prevents blood from flowing freely through the arteries. This can lead to chest pain, a heart attack, or irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias).

Enlarged Left Heart

High blood pressure makes your heart work harder to pump blood, causing the thickening of the left ventricle. The ventricle is not able to pump blood to your body anymore, and the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and sudden cardiac death may increase.

Heart Failure and Attack

In the long term, high blood pressure can weaken your heart muscle, and eventually, your heart simply fails and struggles to perform vital tasks. This can lead to a heart attack.

High blood pressure is considered a “silent killer”

How to Treat High Blood Pressure

If you have high blood pressure, a healthy lifestyle can play a key role in treating this condition so you can avoid prescription medications.

Lose Weight

Losing weight is one of the most effective ways to lower blood pressure. Just 10 pounds of weight loss can make a marked difference. Focus on your waistline—carrying too much weight around the middle can increase your risk of high blood pressure.

Eat Healthy

A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and amino acids is ideal. This eating plan is known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats, and reduce your salt consumption. Even a small reduction in sodium can lower blood pressure by 2 to 8 mm Hg. Reading food labels is an excellent habit. Eat fewer processed foods, and do not add extra salt to your meals—just 1 level teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Replace salt with herbs and spices.

Click here for 16 foods that help lower blood pressure!

Exercise Regularly

Regular exercise helps prevent high blood pressure, especially for those with prehypertension (systolic 120-129 mm Hg and diastolic less than 80 mm Hg) who are teetering on full-blown hypertension. Consistent physical activity can significantly lower your blood pressure. It’s as simple as walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming and engaging in a strength training program.

Reduce Alcohol

If you are 65 years old and older, avoid drinking more than one drink a day. If you are younger, drinking more than two drinks a day might have consequences later in life. And indulging in alcohol can raise your blood pressure by several points and stymie the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.

Avoid Smoking

Smoking can affect your body in many different ways, one of which is to raise your blood pressure, and not just when you’re smoking but for several minutes after. Quitting smoking helps your blood pressure return to normal.

Reduce Caffeine

The jury is still out on how significantly caffeine impacts blood pressure levels, but you can test how you react to caffeine to know how it affects your blood pressure. First check your blood pressure to get a base reading. Then, test your blood pressure numbers within 30 minutes of drinking a caffeinated beverage. If your blood pressure increases 5 to 10 mm Hg, you may be sensitive to the effects of caffeine.

Reduce Stress

Chronic stress most assuredly raises high blood pressure. Mindfulness and breathing techniques can help you cope with stress, but introspective work to know your stress triggers is crucial. Practice gratitude and learn to accept the things that you cannot change.

Monitor Your Blood Pressure

Blood pressure monitors are available widely and without a prescription, and they can help you keep your blood pressure in check. Follow the tips mentioned above, and alert your doctor if you experience health complications. If your blood pressure is under control, you might need to visit your doctor only every 6 to 12 months, but if your blood pressure is not controlled, your visits might become more frequent.

Get Support

The support of your family and friends is key to your health. They may notice health-related issues that you do not see, be an advocate for your health and medical treatment, and even jump on board a new exercise program that can help keep your blood pressure readings in the normal range.

Cardiovascular Disease: Causes, Treatment, Prevention

In this article, we discuss the causes of cardiovascular disease as well as effective treatment and prevention strategies, because arming yourself with knowledge is the first step to better heart health.

Cardiovascular disease, or CVD, is the leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that over 600,000 people die of cardiovascular disease each year. Yet many Americans are unaware they’re at risk. So, in this article, we’re going to discuss the causes of cardiovascular disease as well as effective treatment and prevention strategies, because arming yourself with knowledge is the first step to better heart health.

Causes and Types of Cardiovascular Disease

Heart disease encompasses a range of heart problems. Here are the most common.

Arteriosclerosis

Comprised of three separate conditions—atherosclerosis (the most common type), arteriolosclerosis, and Mönckeberg medial calcific sclerosis—arteriosclerosis is the number one cause of heart disease–related deaths. The condition is a result of the gradual thickening and hardening of the arteries, whether caused by fatty deposits on the arterial walls (atherosclerosis), thickening and hardening of the small blood vessels that branch off the main artery (arteriolosclerosis), or calcium deposits within the middle layer of an artery (Mönckeberg medial calcific sclerosis).

Arteriosclerosis generally has no warning signs until arterial blood flow becomes severely restricted, in which case it can lead to an aneurysm (bulge in an arterial wall), coronary artery disease, carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease, or even chronic kidney disease.

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Also known as coronary heart disease, CAD is the most common type of cardiovascular disease and is a result of atherosclerosis. If left untreated, CAD can lead to angina (chest pain), abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia), heart failure, or a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

Arrhythmia

There are many types of arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, but each is the result of a disruption in the electrical impulses that control heart rhythm. The different types of arrhythmia are also classified based on whether the irregular heartbeat originates in the atria or ventricles and whether it involves a slow heart rate (bradycardia) or a fast heart rate (tachycardia). While an irregular heartbeat can represent a perfectly normal variation in heart rhythm, some arrhythmias can cause stroke, heart failure, or even sudden cardiac death.

Cardiomyopathy

A disease that affects the heart muscle itself, cardiomyopathy causes the heart to enlarge and thicken, which makes it more difficult to pump blood. While there are several different types of cardiomyopathy, each results in weakness of the heart muscle, which can lead to thrombosis (blood clot), heart failure, sudden cardiac death, or problems involving the heart valves.

Heart Infections

Sometimes bacteria, viruses, or parasites invade the heart and cause infection. Pericarditis, or inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart, is usually mild and may improve on its own. Endocarditis, which affects the inner lining of the heart valves and chambers, can be life-threatening and is usually seen in people with pre-existing heart defects. Myocarditis, which involves inflammation of the heart muscle, is the rarest of the three primary types of heart infections and can be relatively mild or lead to severe complications, including heart failure.

Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects, which are sometimes less accurately referred to as congenital heart disease, are the most common type of birth defect and involve abnormalities in the structure of the heart. Holes in the heart, leaky heart valves, and defective major blood vessels are common types of congenital heart defects. While some types of defects don’t cause any problems, some are serious and can lead to congestive heart failure, arrhythmia, stroke, and developmental delays.

Symptoms of Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease symptoms depend on the type of heart disease present, so let’s break down potential symptoms based on the categories we just looked at:

  • Arteriosclerosis and CAD: Symptoms of both arteriosclerosis and coronary artery disease may include chest pain, shortness of breath, pain or numbness in the extremities, and jaw, neck, back, or abdominal pain.
  • Arrhythmia: Symptoms of arrhythmia may include chest fluttering, abnormally slow or racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, and chest pain.
  • Cardiomyopathy: Symptoms of cardiomyopathy may include shortness of breath, leg swelling, arrhythmia, lightheadedness, and fatigue.
  • Heart infections: Symptoms of heart infections may include sharp chest pain, shortness of breath, flu-like symptoms, arrhythmia, fatigue, night sweats, leg and abdominal swelling, and palpitations.
  • Congenital heart defects: Symptoms of congenital heart defects may include cyanosis (bluish skin color), swelling, shortness of breath, arrhythmia, easy fatigability, chest pain, and feeding difficulties or delayed growth in infants.

In addition, it’s important to remember that the symptoms of heart disease may present differently in women and men. For example, men are more likely to experience classic chest pain, while women are more likely to have shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, and chest discomfort.

Heart disease can be a silent killer.

Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors

According to the CDC, approximately half of all Americans have at least one of the three main risk factors for heart disease—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. However, several other factors can also increase an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease. These are:

  • Family history: People with a family history of heart disease are more likely to develop the condition themselves, especially if a parent had the disease at a young age.
  • Age: Older adults have a greater risk of heart disease than other age groups, and adults over the age of 65 are more likely to die of heart disease.
  • Sex: Men are more likely than women to develop cardiovascular disease, though women’s risk increases after menopause.
  • Weight: People who are obese have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Diet: People who consume diets high in salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats are more at risk of heart disease.
  • Activity level: Physical inactivity increases an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Stress: Long-term stress leads to chronically high levels of inflammation, which can damage the heart and increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, including diabetes, increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease.

Diagnosing Cardiovascular Disease

If you’re experiencing symptoms of heart disease or have heart disease risk factors, you should make an appointment with your health care provider. They’ll want to speak with you about your personal and family history and any symptoms or risk factors you may have.

After performing a physical examination as well as blood tests to look for overt signs of heart disease, your health care provider may then choose to perform an additional series of tests to further evaluate your heart.

Cardiovascular Disease Treatment and Prevention

If you’ve been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, your treatment will vary depending on the type of heart disease you have and the symptoms you’re experiencing.

For example, some heart infections may call for antibiotic treatment, and more advanced stages of cardiovascular disease may require medication to lower blood pressure or cholesterol or decrease heart rate. And symptoms of a heart attack, serious arrhythmia, or life-threatening structural abnormality may necessitate surgery.

However, most types and stages of heart disease can be treated—and prevented—with a few simple lifestyle changes. Some of the best ways to help address the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease and help prevent them from occurring in the first place include:

  • Quitting smoking: One of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular disease is smoking, so quitting (or not starting in the first place) can greatly decrease your risk of heart disease and its complications.
  • Exercising: Physical inactivity plays a major role in cardiovascular disease, and striving for 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week—whether that’s dancing, working out at a gym, or simply enjoying regular walks—can lead to improvements in many of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. However, individuals with advanced symptoms of heart disease or severe heart problems should speak with their health care provider before beginning any exercise program.
  • Managing pre-existing conditions: If you have high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, or high cholesterol, getting these risk factors under control can help stop the progression of cardiovascular disease or prevent the condition altogether.
  • Taking care of mental health: Excessive stress and mental health conditions like depression are known to contribute to the development of heart disease, so it’s important to address these issues. Fortunately, techniques like meditation and yoga have been proven effective in lowering stress levels and may also alleviate many symptoms of depression. Moreover, there’s evidence to suggest that natural methods, including amino acids, may be as or even more beneficial for the treatment of depression than pharmaceutical approaches.
  • Eating a healthy dietDiets that minimize excessive sugar and salt, processed foods, and saturated fat and emphasize plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats have been proven to reduce the risk of many inflammatory conditions, including heart disease.
  • Using amino acids: Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are required for almost every biological process in the body. And the amino acids citrulline, arginine, leucine, and carnitine have been shown to be effective in the treatment of heart failure by aiding in the maintenance of muscle mass, helping to regulate blood flow, and improving energy production.

If you or someone you love is at risk of cardiovascular disease, be sure to speak with your health care provider right away. With proper treatment and prevention strategies, it’s possible to improve symptoms, decrease risk factors, and even prevent many types of heart disease.

How to Treat and Prevent Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a heart disease that afflicts millions of Americans each year and is responsible for close to 16% of all deaths globally. It is important to identify CAD signs and risk factors early to help prevent its deleterious effects.

Coronary artery disease, or coronary heart disease, affects millions of Americans. In fact, it’s the most prevalent type of heart disease and the leading cause of death in the United States. However, while this monstrous health problem is responsible for the deaths of one in four Americans each year, it’s also largely preventable. So read on to discover how you can treat and even prevent coronary artery disease.

What Is Coronary Artery Disease?

Coronary artery disease is the result of plaque buildup (atherosclerosis) in the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. In people with this condition, plaque lines the walls of the coronary arteries until the flow of blood is restricted and the heart doesn’t get enough blood—a condition known as ischemia. This restriction of blood flow to the heart can eventually damage the heart muscle, reducing its ability to pump blood efficiently.

Because coronary artery disease develops over time, symptoms depend on the stage of the condition and may be nonexistent, mild, or severe. In the most extreme cases, plaque buildup can suddenly rupture, forming a blood clot when blood platelets attempt to repair the damage. If the blood flow in the artery becomes completely blocked by this process, a myocardial infarction, or heart attack, occurs.

In most people, symptoms of coronary artery disease don’t appear until later in life. However, children and teenagers may sometimes develop the condition as well.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a heart disease that afflicts millions of Americans each year and is responsible for close to 16% of all deaths globally. It is important to identify CAD signs and risk factors early to help prevent the deleterious effects of coronary artery disease.

Coronary Artery Disease Risk Factors

Coronary artery disease is associated with a host of risk factors, many of which can be reduced with lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, though, some factors can’t be changed. These include:

  • Sex: According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), men are more likely to develop obstructive coronary artery disease (narrowed arteries due to plaque), and women are more likely to develop nonobstructive coronary artery disease (arteries with plaque that doesn’t obstruct blood flow).
  • Age: In men, the risk of developing coronary artery disease begins to increase after age 45. In women, the risk increases after menopause.
  • Family history: People with a family history of coronary artery disease have a higher chance of developing the condition.
  • Race: Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in most groups, regardless of race. However, for Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and American Indians, heart disease is second only to cancer.

Again, however, the vast majority of coronary artery disease risk factors are within our control. Some of these factors include:

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Elevated body mass index (BMI)
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic stress
  • Sleep apnea
  • Heavy alcohol use

Coronary Artery Disease Symptoms

As mentioned, the symptoms people experience with coronary artery disease depend on the stage of the disease. Sometimes the first symptoms noted are mild episodes of shortness of breath and chest pain (angina) with activity. But some people may not experience any symptoms until they have an episode of severe chest pain, or even a heart attack. And sometimes coronary artery disease causes no symptoms.

When this happens, it’s known as silent coronary artery disease. Unfortunately, this particular manifestation of coronary artery disease may not be diagnosed until it’s progressed to the point where a person begins to show signs of having a heart attack, heart failure, or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).

Acute signs of coronary artery disease, such as may occur during a heart attack, include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Angina
  • Cold sweats
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Neck pain
  • Nausea
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weakness

Symptoms of chronic coronary artery disease may include:

  • Angina
  • Anxiety
  • Neck pain
  • Fatigue

Diagnosing Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is diagnosed based on personal and family history; risk factors; physical exam; blood tests to measure levels of certain fats, cholesterol, blood sugar, and proteins; and diagnostic procedures. Common tests performed in the diagnosis of coronary artery disease include:

  • Chest x-ray: A chest x-ray may be the first test performed, as it’s able to identify overt abnormalities in the shape and size of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
  • Electrocardiogram: An EKG (or ECG) is a painless procedure that’s also the most commonly used test to screen for heart problems. Used to record the electrical activity of the heart, an EKG can detect arrhythmias, current or previous heart attacks, and the likelihood of coronary artery disease.
  • Echocardiogram: This ultrasound procedure, which is also referred to as an echo, may be recommended in the face of abnormal EKG results. The test uses sound waves to detect structural abnormalities in the heart.
  • Stress test: A cardiac stress test uses either exercise or medication (that mimics exercise) to measure the heart’s response to stress. The test can identify abnormalities in blood pressure and heart rate and rhythm as well as symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pain.
  • Cardiac catheterization: This is an invasive procedure that may be performed if preliminary testing or symptoms lead your physician to suspect you have coronary artery disease. During the procedure, a flexible tube called a catheter is threaded to the heart, where dye is injected and an imaging procedure called a coronary angiography is performed to look for areas of blockage as the dye moves through the heart and its major vessels.

Treating Coronary Artery Disease

Treatment of coronary artery disease depends on several factors, including the severity of the disease, a person’s current health status, and whether they have any complicating health conditions. That being said, treatment may include:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medications
  • Procedures

Lifestyle Changes

The same lifestyle changes recommended to prevent coronary artery disease are also used to help treat it. And for many people with only early signs of the condition, lifestyle changes may be all they need. Typical lifestyle changes recommended for the prevention and treatment of coronary artery disease include:

  • Eating a heart healthy diet
  • Quitting smoking
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Managing stress

In fact, controlling the risk factors for coronary artery disease has even been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease by more than 80%.

Medications

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor may also recommend medication to help relieve symptoms, lower cholesterol or blood pressure, or prevent blood clots. Some of these medications include:

  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins)
  • Antiplatelet drugs (aspirin)
  • Beta blockers (metoprolol)
  • Calcium channel blockers (diltiazem)
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (lisinopril)
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) (valsartan)

Procedures

For people in the more severe stages of coronary artery disease, lifestyle changes and medication may still not be enough. In these cases, surgery will be required. This may take the form of a coronary angioplasty to widen a blocked artery by inflating a tiny balloon or placing a wire mesh tube known as a stent or a coronary artery bypass graft, which involves using healthy arteries from the chest wall or veins from the legs to bypass blocked coronary arteries.

How to Prevent Coronary Artery Disease

By far, the best way to treat coronary artery disease is to prevent it before it starts. And as we’ve just discussed, a few simple lifestyle changes can reduce your risk by more than 80%.

Along with stopping smoking (or avoiding secondhand smoke), losing weight, getting regular exercise, and working on reducing your stress with techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga, there’s no better way to prevent coronary artery disease than eating a heart-healthy diet.

If you’re looking for ways to get the most benefits out of your diet, think about including plenty of:

  • Lean proteins
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Fatty fish
  • Whole grains
  • Olive oil
  • Fruits
  • Beans
  • Nuts

While certain coronary artery disease risk factors—such as family history, age, and sex—can’t be changed, the majority can be decreased, or even eliminated. So speak with your health care provider, find out what your risks are, and make changes as necessary. Your heart will thank you.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a heart disease that afflicts millions of Americans each year and is responsible for close to 16% of all deaths globally. It is important to identify CAD signs and risk factors early to help prevent the deleterious effects of coronary artery disease.

Types of Heart Disease and What You Can Do to Limit Your Risk

Heart disease is synonymous with cardiovascular disease and encompasses a cluster of diseases and related complications of the heart and/or blood vessels. Learn about the different types of heart disease and their symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing over 600,000 Americans each year. While some of the risk factors for this national health problem can’t be prevented, many others can. So come with us as we explore the various types of heart disease and what you can do to limit your risk.

What Is Heart Disease?

The heart is a muscular organ with four chambers—two upper chambers called atria and two lower chambers called ventricles. All the blood in our bodies circulates through these four chambers.

The right atrium takes in oxygen-poor blood from the body and pumps it to the right ventricle, which in turn sends blood to the lungs. By contrast, the left atrium receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumps it to the left ventricle, which sends blood out to the entire body.

If something happens to disrupt this process, whether a heart condition we’re born with or a disease process we develop later in life, the heart’s ability to pump enough blood to supply the body with the nutrients and oxygen it needs can become compromised, and heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, as it’s also known, can result.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

According to CDC statistics, approximately 47% of Americans have at least one of the three main risk factors for heart disease:

However, several other factors can also increase an individual’s risk of this largely preventable disease. These include:

  • Family history: People with a family history of heart disease are more likely to develop the condition themselves, especially if a parent had the disease at a young age.
  • Age: Older adults have a greater risk of heart disease than any other age group, and adults over the age of 65 are more likely to die of heart disease.
  • Sex: Men are more likely than women to develop cardiovascular disease, though women’s risk increases after menopause.
  • Weight: People who are obese have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Diet: People who consume diets high in salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats have a greater risk of heart disease.
  • Activity level: Physical inactivity increases an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Stress: Long-term stress leads to chronically high levels of inflammation, which can damage the heart and increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, including diabetes, increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease.

Types of Heart Disease

The term heart disease actually encompasses a range of different heart problems, but the most common types of heart disease are the following.

Arteriosclerosis

This type of heart disease is actually made up of three separate conditions—atherosclerosis (the most common type), arteriolosclerosis, and Mönckeberg medial calcific sclerosis—all of which make arteriosclerosis the number one cause of heart disease–related deaths.

Arteriosclerosis is the result of the gradual thickening and hardening of the arteries, which may be caused by fatty deposits on the arterial walls (atherosclerosis), thickening and hardening of the small blood vessels that branch off the main artery (arteriolosclerosis), or calcium deposits within the middle layer of an artery (Mönckeberg medial calcific sclerosis).

While arteriosclerosis typically has no warning signs in the early stages, if the condition is allowed to progress, arterial blood flow can become restricted to the point that an aneurysm (bulge in an arterial wall), coronary artery disease, carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease, or even chronic kidney disease can develop.

Coronary Artery Disease

Also known as coronary heart disease, coronary artery disease is a direct result of unchecked atherosclerosis, which makes it the most common type of heart disease. If left untreated, coronary artery disease can cause angina (chest pain), abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia), heart failure, or a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

Arrhythmia 

There are actually many different types of arrhythmias, also known as irregular heartbeats, but each is the result of a disruption in the electrical impulses that control heart rhythm. Arrhythmias are also classified based on whether they originate in the atria or ventricles and whether they involve bradycardia (slow heart rate) or tachycardia (fast heart rate). While an irregular heartbeat can simply be a normal variation in heart rhythm, some arrhythmias can lead to stroke, heart failure, or even sudden cardiac death.

Heart Infections

If bacteria, viruses, or parasites enter the heart, they can lead to infection. Pericarditis, or inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart, is usually mild and may improve on its own. Endocarditis, which affects the inner lining of the heart valves and chambers, can be life-threatening and is usually seen in people with pre-existing heart defects. Myocarditis, which involves inflammation of the heart muscle, is the rarest of the three primary types of heart infections and can be relatively mild or lead to severe complications, including heart failure.

Cardiomyopathy

This type of heart disease affects the heart muscle itself, causing the heart to grow larger and thicker, which makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood out to the body. There are actually several different types of cardiomyopathy, but each results in weakness of the heart muscle. And this can lead to blood clot (thrombosis), heart failure, sudden cardiac death, or valvular heart disease.

Congenital Heart Defects

This type of heart disease involves abnormalities in the structure of the heart. Congenital heart defects are the most common types of birth defects and can result in holes in the heart, leaky heart valves, and problems with major blood vessels. Although some types of defects don’t cause any problems, some are quite serious and can lead to problems including congestive heart failure, arrhythmia, stroke, and developmental delays.

Valvular Heart Disease

In addition to the heart’s four chambers, the heart also has four valves—the aortic, mitral, pulmonary, and tricuspid valves—which help guide blood flow through the heart. If these valves become damaged due to a congenital defect, infection, or other heart problem, they can develop stenosis (narrowing), regurgitation (leaking), or prolapse (improper closure), which can lead to potentially serious complications, such as heart failure, blood clot, stroke, arrhythmia, or sudden cardiac death.

Symptoms of Heart Disease

Heart disease symptoms can vary depending on whether you’re a woman or a man. For example, men are more likely to experience chest pain, while women are more likely to have shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, and chest discomfort.

In addition, symptoms of heart disease may be different depending on what type of heart problem is present:

  • Arteriosclerosis and coronary artery disease: Symptoms of both arteriosclerosis and coronary artery disease may include chest pain, shortness of breath, pain or numbness in the extremities, and jaw, neck, back, or abdominal pain.
  • Arrhythmia: Symptoms of arrhythmia may include chest fluttering, abnormally slow or racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, and chest pain.
  • Cardiomyopathy: Symptoms of cardiomyopathy may include shortness of breath, leg swelling, arrhythmia, lightheadedness, and fatigue.
  • Heart infections: Symptoms of heart infections may include sharp chest pain, shortness of breath, flu-like symptoms, arrhythmia, fatigue, night sweats, leg and abdominal swelling, and palpitations.
  • Congenital heart defects: Symptoms of congenital heart defects may include cyanosis (bluish skin color), swelling, shortness of breath, arrhythmia, easy fatigability, chest pain, and feeding difficulties or delayed growth in infants.
  • Valvular heart disease: Symptoms of valvular heart disease may include heart murmur, shortness of breath, fatigue, arrhythmia, lower extremity swelling, dizziness, and syncope (fainting).

Heart disease is synonymous with cardiovascular disease and encompasses a cluster of diseases and related complications of the heart and/or blood vessels. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and kills over 600,000 Americans yearly. Learn about the different types of heart disease and their symptoms.

Limiting Your Heart Disease Risk

While some forms of heart disease, like congenital heart defects, can’t be prevented and certain risk factors, such as age, sex, and family history, can’t be changed, it is possible to limit your risk of most types of heart disease with just a few simple lifestyle changes.

Quit Smoking

One of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular disease is smoking, so quitting (or not starting in the first place) can greatly decrease your risk of heart disease and its complications.

Exercise

Physical activity plays a major role in preventing cardiovascular disease, and striving for 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week—whether that’s dancing, working out at a gym, or simply enjoying regular walks—can lead to improvements in many of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. However, individuals with advanced symptoms of heart disease or severe heart problems should speak with their health care provider before beginning any exercise program.

Manage Pre-existing Conditions

If you have high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, or high cholesterol, getting these risk factors under control can help stop the progression of pre-existing cardiovascular disease or prevent the condition altogether.

Nurture Mental Health

Excessive stress and mental health conditions like depression are known to contribute to the development of heart disease, so it’s important to address these issues. Getting proper sleep, avoiding insomnia, and utilizing techniques like meditation and yoga have all been shown to be effective in lowering stress levels and may also alleviate many symptoms of depression. Moreover, there’s evidence to suggest that natural methods, including amino acids, may be as or even more beneficial for the treatment of depression than pharmaceutical approaches.

Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet

Diets that minimize excessive sugar and salt, processed foods, and saturated fat and emphasize plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats have been proven to reduce the risk of many inflammatory conditions, including heart disease.

Supplement Wisely

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are required for almost every biological process in the body. And when taken as part of a balanced formula of essential amino acids, the amino acids citrulline, arginine, leucine, and carnitine have been shown to be effective in the treatment of heart failure by aiding in the maintenance of muscle mass, helping to regulate blood flow, and improving energy production.

Likewise, an increasing body of evidence suggests that the amino acid taurine may be effective in reducing blood pressure as well as the risk of cardiac dysfunction and heart failure.

And a number of studies have shown that the amino acids cysteine, alanine, glutamate, glutamine, glycine, isoleucine, valine, along with a balanced intake of all nine essential amino acids, can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, increase exercise capacity, and improve vascular function.

The mineral magnesium also plays an important role in heart health, and a deficiency has been implicated in a number of heart-related conditions, including high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, elevated cholesterol levels, heart attack, and stroke. Yet studies have shown that the majority of people in the United States, through a mixture of poor diet and depleted soils, may not be getting the magnesium their bodies need.

The body’s levels of the antioxidant coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) also decline with age, and levels have been found to be even lower in individuals with heart disease. What’s more, studies have shown that supplementation with CoQ10 can improve symptoms of congestive heart failure and may help lower blood pressure as well.

As you can see, a number of proven natural approaches are available to help you reduce your risk of heart disease. And by instituting just a few of these simple lifestyle changes, you can not only decrease your risk of becoming the next victim of the number one killer in the United States but also improve your overall health and quality of life.

Heart disease is synonymous with cardiovascular disease and encompasses a cluster of diseases and related complications of the heart and/or blood vessels. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and kills over 600,000 Americans yearly. Learn about the different types of heart disease and their symptoms.

Stroke Recovery: How to Spot a Stroke and Tips for Treatment and Prevention

A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is cut off or reduced. Can amino acid supplements help during stroke recovery? The latest research shows promising results regarding the effects of amino acids on patients during exercise and recovery.

Did you know that 10-20% of your body’s blood supply goes to your brain, delivering much-needed oxygen and critical nutrients? When blood flow to the brain is impaired, the brain stops receiving oxygen and nutrients, brain cells start to die, and a stroke is underway. Strokes can occur close to the surface of the brain or deep within the tissues—the damage depends on the area of the brain that is affected, the type of stroke, and the severity.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, and it is considered a medical emergency. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 800,000 people in the United States each year have a stroke, and strokes kill around 140,000 Americans annually. Let’s gain a better understanding of this ominous cardiovascular event and what to expect on the road to stroke recovery.

Signs of a Stroke

Recognizing the symptoms of a stroke is crucial. Patients who arrive at the emergency room within three hours of manifesting symptoms recover faster than patients whose care was delayed. Use the “FAST” test to determine if you or someone you love is having a stroke.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is cut off or reduced. Can amino acid supplements help during stroke recovery? The latest research shows promising results regarding the effects of amino acids on patients during exercise and recovery.

What Causes a Stroke?

The cause determines the type of stroke and the part of the brain affected.

Ischemic Stroke

An ischemic stroke occurs when the blood vessels in the brain close up or become blocked. Up to 90% of all strokes are ischemic. The most common types are:

  • Thrombotic stroke: This type of ischemic stroke happens when a clot forms in a blood vessel due to a build up of plaque that results in reduced blood flow (thrombosis).
  • Embolic stroke: When a clot forms in another part of the body and moves to the brain, blocking an artery (embolism), an embolic stroke can occur.

According to Harvard Medical School, up to one-fifth of all strokes are lacunar. A lacunar stroke is a type of ischemic stroke resulting from a blockage in tiny arteries deep inside the brain. More than 90% of patients who experienced a lacunar stroke recover within the first 90 days after the stroke.

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), also called a mini-stroke, is similar to an ischemic stroke because it is caused by a clot blocking blood flow to part of the nervous system, but there is no permanent brain damage. Symptoms are similar to those of an ischemic stroke (weakness on one side of the body and slurred speech) but they usually last less than 5 minutes. It might be difficult to tell if you are having a stroke or a TIA based on symptoms, so always seek immediate medical attention.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel leaks blood into the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are rarer than ischemic strokes, but they account for between 30% and 60% of all stroke-related deaths. The most common types of hemorrhagic stroke are:

  • Intracerebral hemorrhage: An intracerebral hemorrhage is caused by a blood vessel in the brain leaking into the brain tissue and harming the cells (aneurysm). High blood pressure, vascular malformations, trauma and use of blood-thinning medications are notable risk factors for intracerebral hemorrhage.
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage: When an artery in the brain spills into the region between the skull and the brain, a subarachnoid hemorrhage can occur—a sudden, severe headache usually signals the bleeding. After the hemorrhage, the blood vessels widen and narrow intermittently, causing cell damage.

Stroke Risk Factors

Many factors can increase stroke risk. Lifestyle risk factors include being overweight, physical inactivity, and addiction to alcohol and drugs. Medical risk factors include blood pressure higher than 120/80 millimeters of mercury, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, and family history.

Keep in mind that smoke, secondhand smoke, and heavy alcohol consumption raise the risk of stroke. Certain street drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamines, are also risk factors for a TIA or a stroke.

Stroke Prevention

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is one of the best steps you can take to prevent a stroke.

  • Keep tabs on your blood pressure. Monitor your blood pressure and keep it low by exercising regularly, managing stress, and maintaining a healthy weight. If you tend to have high blood pressure, ask your doctor about the best methods for regulation, which may include prescription medications if lifestyle alterations are unable to lower blood pressure to safe levels.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Cut back on saturated fat and trans fats to reduce plaque in your arteries. Be sure to include the recommended five or more daily servings of fruits or vegetables to reduce the risk of stroke.
  • Exercise often. Cardio workouts help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and improve the health of your blood vessels and heart. Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Take preventive medications as prescribed. In addition to lifestyle changes, you can ask your doctor about preventive medications. Antiplatelet drugs, like aspirin, make blood cells less sticky and less likely to clot. Aggrenox, a combination of low-dose aspirin and the anti-platelet drug dipyridamole, is commonly prescribed to decrease the risk of blood clotting.

Stroke Recovery

For a full recovery and to accelerate recovery time, follow these tips:

  • Therapy: Physical therapists and psychologists can help reverse the physical and mental effects of a stroke and prevent depression. Occupational therapy and speech therapy can help you regain cognitive abilities and improve your speech following a stroke. Follow the instructions of your health care team and be patient with your rehabilitation program as you rebuild strength and improve coordination.
  • Gait rehabilitation: To regain gait and mobility, physical and occupational therapists recommend a stroke recovery program that incorporates strength training, treadmill training, and functional electrical stimulation to help reprogram your muscles. About 65-85% of stroke sufferers will be able to walk independently within 6 months after a stroke.
  • Eye exercises: About 25% of all stroke survivors experience issues with vision, and eye exercises can help. Standard letter search or word search puzzles can be easily incorporated into your daily life.
  • Support: Having a support network is crucial throughout the recovery process. Your family members and loved ones can help you heal the emotional distress left by the stroke, but you can also look for local support groups through the American Heart Association.
  • SleepAfter a stroke, it might be difficult to fall asleep, and small strategies can help. Sleep in a cool room, turn off technology at least 30 minutes before going to bed and practice meditation to release stress.
  • Blood sugar levels: Reduce consumption of foods that can raise blood sugar levels. Cut refined sugars, grains, and alcohol from your diet—eat high-fiber foods that help keep blood sugar levels within the normal range.
  • Yoga and meditation: Studies show that yoga improves physical, mental, and emotional health after a stroke—GABA, the neurotransmitter that regulates anxiety, is released in the brain during yoga. Studies have also found that meditation can reduce pain, improve sleep quality, help mental performance, boost productivity, and increase happiness.
  • Vitamin D: Low serum levels of vitamin D are associated with post-stroke depression. Taking supplements of high-quality vitamin D can help improve neurologic and cognitive function. Eat foods that contain high levels of vitamin D such as sardines and salmon and, if possible, get at least 20 minutes each day of sun.

Amino Acids for Stroke Recovery

Can amino acid supplements help during stroke rehabilitation? The latest research shows promising results regarding the effects of amino acids on stroke patients during exercise and recovery.

One study showed that 30 days of oral supplementation with an optimally formulated mixture of amino acids alongside conventional therapy improved exercise capacity in 95 elderly people with chronic heart failure. The patients were randomly assigned to 4 grams of amino acids taken twice daily or a placebo. Results showed that exercise capacity in the amino acid group improved compared to the placebo group—oral amino acid supplementation, in conjunction with pharmacologic therapy, enhanced circulatory function, muscle oxygen consumption, and aerobic production of energy.

Another study examined amino acid and protein metabolism during exercise and recovery and found that amino acids restore glycogen, a substance deposited in bodily tissues as a store of carbohydrates, which are used as fuel during exercise.

Taking a balanced amino acid supplement can also stimulate muscle protein synthesis. During recovery patients often stay in bed, and go through periods of physical inactivity. Studies show that essential amino acids reduce the loss of muscle protein mass and physical strength.

For more information on stroke risks, causes, and prevention, as well as resources for coping with life after a stroke, visit the National Stroke Association/American Stroke Association website.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is cut off or reduced. Can amino acid supplements help during stroke recovery? The latest research shows promising results regarding the effects of amino acids on patients during exercise and recovery.