Did you know heart health can tell you all sorts of things about your body? Heart rate can indicate stress or anxiety, low energy can mean high blood pressure, and shortness of breath can warn of a more significant problem like high cholesterol. When cholesterol, a substance that helps make vitamin D and hormones, is too high, it can clog up your arteries. This build-up means your heart must work harder to pump oxygen through the body, leading to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
There are two types of cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is often referred to as “good cholesterol” because it successfully transports cholesterol to the liver, where it is excreted from the body. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is typically referred to as “bad cholesterol” because it can clog arteries and cause inflammation.
Heart health and healthy cholesterol levels are vital to living a long, energetic, fulfilling life. That’s why supporting your heart in your day-to-day life is essential as you age. Lifestyle changes like regular exercise, managing stress, healthy eating, and trustworthy supplements can improve heart health and lower cholesterol levels.
Eating a clean, primarily plant-based diet can lower cholesterol and keep your heart healthy. A study from Nutrition Reviews found that individuals who eat a plant-based diet have lower LDL cholesterol levels than individuals who eat a diet high in meat. A plant-based diet also reduces body fat, lowering the risk of heart-related issues. Johns Hopkins researchers and a significant amount of other data indicates that obese patients are at a higher risk for heart failure. Nuts are an excellent and easy way to support your heart. A few nuts a day can reduce harmful fat, cholesterol, and blood pressure. I alternate between almonds, Brazil nuts, and walnuts. They’re also great to throw in smoothies, salads, and bowls of oatmeal.
My favorite ways to de-stress are yoga, meditation, and gratitude journaling. Every night before bed, I write down three things I’m grateful for from my day. It’s a practice that makes me feel grounded and puts me in a good mood before bed. I also sleep at least eight hours nightly to ensure I’m in tip-top shape for the next day.
Managing stress is crucial for heart health, healthy cholesterol levels, and general wellbeing. Stress can trigger a “fight-or-flight” response in your body that can feel like a heart attack due to the release of cortisol and adrenaline. Sometimes, stressful situations can even cause a heart attack, especially in individuals with a history of heart disease. Stress can also cause inflammation that hurts the heart both directly and indirectly. Due to chronic stress, people can drink more, indulge in fatty foods, and exercise less – all of which have negative impacts on cardiac and overall health.
According to a study from the American Heart Association, heart disease can be reduced by meditating and deep breathing. Other ways to beat stress include exercise, a positive attitude, and unplugging from electronics.
Eating enough fiber is essential to excrete cholesterol from the body. Soluble fiber forms a gel that prevents bad cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Fiber reduces bad cholesterol, inflammation, and blood pressure, as well as feeding good gut bacteria, which can lower cholesterol. A fiber-rich diet promotes weight loss because fiber fills you up and makes you feel fuller for longer.
A minimum of 10 grams of fiber daily can decrease cholesterol levels according to Mayo Clinic. Women should eat 21-25 grams of fiber daily, and men should consume 30-38 grams of fiber daily. Most individuals only get half of those amounts daily.
Labs and Testing
Here is the lab work and optimal results I recommend my clients ask their health-care practitioners for to make sure they are staying on top of their heart health and cholesterol:
|Test||What it means||Normal||Optimal|
|LDL cholesterol||The “bad” cholesterol, atherogenic at high levels. Not the best marker for heart disease.||< 100 mg/dL||< 100 mg/dL|
|HDL cholesterol||The “good” cholesterol, protective against heart disease.||Men: 40-50 mg/dL Women: 40-50 mg/dL||Men: > 50 mg/dL Women: > 60 mg/dL|
|Triglycerides||The storage form of fat, high levels associated with insulin resistance.||< 150 mg/dL||< 150 mg/dL|
|Triglycerides to HDL ratio||Indicates an elevated risk for heart attack and stroke.||Not available||< 4.0|
|Total cholesterol||Total cholesterol (LDL + HDL)||200-239 mg/dL||< 200 mg/dL|
|Total cholesterol to HDL ratio||Indicates an elevated risk for heart attack and stroke.||Not available||< 3.0|
|Lipoprotein A||A particle of LDL with an Apo(a) particle attached, associated with clogged arteries||< 75 nmol/L||< 30-50 nmol/L|
|NMR Lipid Testing||LDL particle size: Tells the number of LDL particles present in the blood, a risk factor for heart disease.||1138-1409 nmol/L||< 1020 nmol/L|
|Small dense LDL particles: The most atherogenic subtype of LDL likely to leave fatty deposits in the blood.||Not available||< 501 nmol/L|
|VLDL: contains the most triglycerides. A type of bad cholesterol responsible for plaque build-up.||0.1-1.7 mmol/L||< 0.1 mmol/L|
|HDL size: the larger the size of the HDL particle, the better. An inverse relationship is present between HDL size and heart disease risk. HbA1C CRP||Small: 7.3-8.2 nm/LMedium: 8.3-9.3 nm/LLarge 9.4-14.0 nm/L Average blood sugar over the past 3 months. Better indicator of metabolic health. General inflammation. Low-grade inflammation is a sign of chronic disease.||> 9 nm/L 4.8% – 5.6% 0.0-4.9 mg/L||4.8% – 5.5% < 0.7 mg/L|
My Favorite Heart-Healthy Supplements
Magnesium regulates heart rate, controls blood pressure, and supports the heart. I always suggest a magnesium supplement to my clients because it’s hard to eat enough magnesium-rich foods each day.
Folate is a B vitamin that helps make blood cells. 5MTHF, the active form of folate, converts an amino acid called homocysteine to methionine. Without this conversion, homocysteine can contribute to cardiovascular problems.
Vitamin K prevents calcium build-up on the walls of blood vessels, which is common in older adults. If too much calcium builds up on the walls of blood vessels, then it’s more difficult for blood to pump throughout the body.
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA promote healthy circulation, blood flow, and cholesterol levels. An EPA/DHA supplement is beneficial if you’re not consuming enough heart-healthy fish or algae in your diet.
Although coenzyme Q10 can be found in some foods, it’s great to take in supplement form. This antioxidant protects and supports the cells of the heart and is beneficial for heart and blood vessel function.
Curcumin is the most bioactive component in turmeric and has been used in traditional medicine for over 2,000 years. Curcumin phytosome protects heart health by promoting healthy cholesterol levels and helping maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Berberine helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels, supports the gut, and helps control weight. Berberine has been used for centuries to promote healing.
This fantastic bundle from Thorne has three supplements that support healthy lipid and cholesterol levels. The bundle includes Choleast-900, Berberine, and Curcumin Phytosome. It’s a great place to start taking care of your heart health.
A healthy heart and optimal cholesterol levels are so important for living a long and healthy life. By implementing these lifestyle changes and incorporating these supplements, you can take control of your cardiac health.