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Want to prevent Heart Attacks and Strokes?

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February is Heart Month and in spite of all the money raised by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, heart attacks and strokes are still the number one and two causes of death in North America.  Instead of giving them money so that they can promote Becel margarine or Cheerios as heart-healthy foods, there are two foods that you can buy for yourself that will maintain and even improve your heart function, and yet the majority of people do not include them in their diets. They are fresh fish and raw nuts.

We all know that in order to maintain good heart health we must exercise every day.  We also know that we must eat fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat and stay away from junk food and sugary snacks.  But even people who adhere to this regimen are still at risk because they do not eat enough fish or nuts.

The Nutritional Value of Fish

Many people are afraid to eat fish because they have concerns about the harmful chemicals in fish such as methyl mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls(PCBs) and dioxins. The warnings from Health and Welfare Canada are specifically to pregnant and nursing mothers because these chemicals interfere with the development of the brain of the fetus.  The key word here is development, for once the brain is formed, the benefits of consuming omega 3 fatty acids from fish far outweigh any possible damage that these chemicals can cause to the brain. It is only the Inuit Indians in Greenland and Northern Quebec who live entirely on a fish diet that have problems with high levels of these chemicals but still have the lowest rate of heart disease in the world.

A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October 2006 showed that the benefits of eating fish (including shellfish) are far greater than the potential risks. One to two servings of fish per week is enough to reduce the risk of dying from a heart attack by 36%.  The research was done at the Harvard School of Public Health and it showed that cold-water fish such as salmon, trout,sardines,mackerel and herring contain two omega-3 fatty acids called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) which guard against heart attacks and stroke.  The study also showed that a steady intake of Omega-3 fats reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and rheumatoid arthritis. DHA is also needed for the development and maintenance of the brain, eye and nervous tissue throughout life, beginning at the final trimester of pregnancy.

Many of the larger fish such as swordfish, tuna and shark are considered high mercury fish and should not be consumed more than once a month. They have high levels of methylmercury because they live longer and have more time to accumulate toxins.  Mercury is naturally occurring at very low levels in the air, soil, lakes and oceans.  It also is a byproduct of the mining industry and from pulp and paper processing.  When mercury enters streams of water, bacteria convert it to soluble methyl mercury which is then absorbed by fish. The concern is that mercury can accumulate in the body and affect the developing nervous system, especially the brain, of infants and young children. Heavy doses of mercury during pregnancy may also increase the risk of birth defects and learning disabilities.

The other concern is the high levels of PCBs and dioxins. PCBs were widely used in industry but banned from use in 1977. Dioxins are byproducts of waste incineration, paper bleaching and plastic production. They persist in the environment at low levels for long periods of time and are in many foods. There is some evidence that these products may be carcinogenic but there are more of these chemicals in other foods than fish.

PCBs and dioxins are found in chicken and pork (34%) dairy products (30%), vegetables (22%) and only 9% in fish and shellfish. When you allow the fat to cook off (e.g. baking, boiling or grilling versus frying) you lower the amount of PCBs and dioxins in your food.

When researcher evaluated the risks and heart benefits associated with eating fish, they found that the heart benefits outweighed cancer risks by 100 to 370 fold and in very low mercury fish by 1000 fold.

Fish with low mercury content

Catfish          Oysters           Shrimp

Clams            Pollock           Tilapia

Crab             Salmon

Haddock       (Wild)             Trout

Herring        Sardines          Source: Journal of the

Mackerel     Scallops          American Medical Assn.

To maintain maximum heart health, you should eat at least two servings of fresh fish per week. This would be a 6 ounce serving of salmon or trout or other oily fish such as sardines, anchovies or herring. This should supply your body with about 1000mg of fish oil containing 800mg of EPA and 400mg of DHA.  If you just cannot stand to eat fish, then use a good supplement such as two capsules of Rx Omega 3 Factors from Natural Factors or one teaspoonful of Nutra Sea fish oil daily. Both of these products are pharmaceutical grade which means they have zero contaminants, not even trace amounts of mercury or any toxins. Some of the old fashioned fish oils such as Cod Liver Oil contain contaminants and come from the liver of the cod rather than from the fleshy parts of the fish. (It is important to remember that the liver is the detoxification organ which means that oils accumulated in the liver of the codfish are sure to contain many contaminants). Whether you eat fresh fish, take the supplements or even do both, you are on your way to a life that could be free of heart attacks or strokes.

The Nutritional Value of Nuts

In the same way that people are afraid to eat fish because of the mercury and lead, most people are afraid of nuts because they think that they will make them fat.  In fact, a handful of mixed nuts (about 2 ounces) packs in 205 calories and 5 teaspoonfuls of oil.  However, it is that fat in the oil that makes nuts so healthy for you.  Nearly every major study in the last 10 years has shown that daily consumption of nuts is associated with protection from heart attacks and strokes, diabetes, high blood pressure and even Alzheimer’s disease. Daily consumption of nuts will keep your cholesterol at excellent levels and keep your blood pressure in the excellent range.

Vegans and vegetarians who do not eat meat usually rely solely on nuts as their source of protein.  Not only are they rich in proteins but they do not contain any cholesterol and are very low in saturated fat.  They can be fattening if you eat them by the handful, but the solution to that is self control.

People in our society have become used to eating snack food when watching events.  Can you go to the show without having some snacks? If you go to a sporting event you will no doubt be eating all through the contest and that leads to snacking while watching television at home. Instead of potato chips or nachos, you should buy unsalted peanuts in the shell. You have to break them open, remove the covering from the peanut and eat it.  This is work. You may even burn off some calories trying to pop open some of those shells. You also can control the number of peanuts you put in the dish. This is the healthiest snack you can eat and you have them with water and wash them down with fruit.

Peanuts are technically legumes, rather than nuts, but have the same makeup and nutrients as nuts. Real nuts are tree nuts and that includes Almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts and walnuts. Regardless of the type of nuts you eat, more than 40 studies have shown that including nuts in your diet reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.  A recent study from researchers at Harvard Medical School found that men who ate nuts at least twice a week were 30% less likely to die from heart disease than men who avoided nuts.  The ongoing Nurse’s Health Study turned up similar results.  Among 86,016 women who were tracked for 14 years, those who ate five ounces of nuts per week were 35% less likely to suffer heart attacks than women who ate less then one ounce per month.  The same study also showed the same nut eaters also had a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Since nuts contain mainly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and only very small amounts of saturated fats, they actually lower your LDL(“bad”) cholesterol and increase your HDL(“good”) cholesterol. Natural plant chemicals in nuts, called plant sterols, also lower cholesterol and are anti-inflammatory.  Nuts guard against heart disease, not only because they lower your bad cholesterol but also because they are very rich in protein which provides large amounts of arginine, an amino acid that improves blood-vessel function and provides better circulation. Walnuts also contain alpha linoleic acid (ALA) an omega-3 fat that protects against irregular heart rhythms. Other nutrients in nuts such as vitamin E, folic acid, magnesium, potassium and fiber are also heart-protective.

The scientifically tested DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) includes nuts and legumes four times a week to help lower blood pressure. But, nuts can be fattening and that is why you must be careful about your daily intake. The Table below shows the caloric value of each serving of the different types of nuts.

When you buy nuts look for raw or dry-roasted nuts and make sure you buy the unsalted variety. If you use salty nuts, the extra salt will cause your body to retain water and this will cause an increase in your blood pressure thus negating any positive value from the nuts. You can use nuts in the following ways:

•Top your morning bowl of cold or hot cereal with nuts

•Add sliced almonds to cooked fish or slivered almonds to yogurt or ground almonds to smoothies

•Add peanuts or cashews to your stir-fry

•Sauté leafy green vegetables with cashews or pine nuts

•Add pecans or walnuts to salads and pastas tossed in olive oil

•Add chopped nuts to muffin cookie and pancake batters

•Make your trail mix snack with nuts, dried apricots and raisins

In this way, you control the serving size and get all the nutritional benefit of the nuts without gaining weight.

Heart attacks and strokes are terribly disabling. You never truly have 100% recovery. Studies have shown that the majority of people who have had open heart surgery suffer early dementia.  This same effect happens to victims of stroke. This may have been caused by the heart problem in the first place or it may be a residual effect of all the drugs a typical heart attack patient is given upon discharge. Nearly every heart attack victim that survives leaves the hospital with 2 blood thinners (coumadin and aspirin) 3 anti-hypertensives, an ace inhibitor, a calcium channel blocker and a beta blocker and a diuretic such as furosemide. They are usually prescribed an antidepressant and finally a drug such as Losec to stop stomach acid secretions caused by all the other drugs. Is that the life you want?

To stay away from all this you must start with a daily regimen of aerobic exercise which can consist of a 30 to 40 minute walk each day or a swim if you are unable to walk.  You must faithfully eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day and eat as many freshly prepared meals as possible. You absolutely avoid fast food or take-out and you try and eat small portions as often as five or six times a day. Cola drinks are a thing of the past to be replaced by water, wine or natural fruit juices. You have made a commitment to eat fresh cold water fish at least twice a week and you have decided to find a way to add nuts into your daily diet.

In a perfect world you would not need supplements because you would consume a perfect diet. However, there is a place for some supplements for the heart and among the most important are Co Q10 which lowers resistance to arterial blood flow and provides more blood circulation to your heart, Omega 3 fish oil supplements that are high in DHA and EPA, and herbs such as hawthorn, cayenne and garlic which are very heart protective and reduce blood pressure. You can use L-Arginine as a daily supplement to reduce your blood pressure and increase your blood circulation. People who have nut allergies, those who cannot or will not eat fish and people who have passed the point of no return and are taking prescription medications for life can safely use any of these supplements, none of which interfere with all the prescription drugs I mentioned earlier. If you want a specific answer about how your medication would react with any herbs or supplements you may email me at goldman@medscape.com

Heart attacks and strokes are the number one and two killers of people in this country.  Do not be a victim. Take charge and be proactive in your own health care and never worry again about heart disease.

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