Next Friday, one week from today, we’ll be observing Women’s Heart Health Month by wearing RED. AHS will reward the first 50 folks who post their pictures in red on Facebook with a red dress pin from Go Red For Women. You can scroll through the pictures from last year on our Facebook page to get ideas for this year!
Women’s Heart Disease: Prevention
In the wellness field, we focus on prevention through a healthy lifestyle. Behavior and lifestyle modifications are the most effective “treatment” for preventing chronic disease in general. At the root of all chronic disease is inflammation, so reducing inflammation in the body is not only part of heart disease prevention, it’s crucial to prevention of the comorbidities that often accompany it (obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome).
How Chronic Inflammation Affects Our Health
Inflammation is a healthy part of our immune response — we get a fever to protect us from an invading pathogen, for example — but when we experience a state of chronic inflammation, one that becomes generalized or systemic from head to toe, that’s when we run into trouble. Chronic inflammation in the body can show up as musculo-skeletal aches and pain, sores in the mouth, digestive distress (especially in the lower bowel), a weakened or fatigued immune system, autoimmunity, asthma, plaque in the vascular system, dementia, and even mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
An important feedback loop that leads to heart disease (in men and women) is created when chronic inflammation affects our ability to eat well and remain active. If we are in too much pain to stand up in the kitchen to cook a wholesome meal, we will likely eat sub-healthy food. If our severe asthma or body aches prevent us from taking a brisk 30 minute walk every day, we will likely become sedentary. Poor food choices and a sedentary lifestyle will lead to an increase in body fat. And body fat is not an inert substance we carry around. On the contrary, fat cells increase inflammation and cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body. The extra “spare tire” isn’t just making it more difficult to zip up your pants; it’s actively creating dis-ease in your body and promoting an inflammatory response.
Preventing Inflammation and Heart Disease through Lifestyle
So how to prevent inflammation? One major way is to keep our immune system calm by avoiding foods that irritate our gut lining. The most significant pro-inflammatory foods are sugar, white flour, and all processed foods. These foods propagate bad bacteria in the gut — bacteria that create inflammation — and damage the gut lining. A damaged gut lining will allow partially digested food particles into the body and set off an immune response, creating inflammation. Other foods that may cause problems are gluten, dairy, eggs, shellfish, and nuts. You might consider getting an allergy test to find out if these foods are a problem for you, but your body’s response to these foods is likely a more reliable indicator. By eliminating them for a few weeks and then slowly adding them back in, one at a time, you will have an idea of which foods cause trouble in your gut and which ones don’t.
Exercise is another crucial way to reduce inflammation and prevent heart disease in both men and women. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, inactive women are at a higher risk than inactive men of developing heart disease.
Stop smoking. Smoking literally brings hot, inflammatory smoke into your body, and creates increased risk for a number of chronic diseases, including heart disease.
Maintain a healthy diet. Make sure to eat a diet rich in fiber from organic fruits and vegetables and low (if any) trans-fats and processed sugars. I mentioned sugar above, but now I’m emphasizing the importance of fruits and vegetables. The phytonutrients you consume when you eat fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, including antioxidants and anthocyanins, are great for heart health and reducing inflammation overall.
Eat foods rich in live cultures such as PLAIN, organic, yogurt and kefir, kombucha, live sauer kraut, wild pickles, tempeh, miso, and kim chee. These foods will support gut health and prevent the leaky gut that leads to inflammation.
Maintain a healthy body composition. How much metabolically active body fat you’re carrying around will partially determine your risk for heart disease. Developing lean muscle will increase your metabolism and allow you to burn fat more efficiently. Obviously, everything listed above this tip is essential to maintaining a healthy body composition.
Wear Red and Spread the Word
We’re looking forward to seeing you all in RED next Friday! Please share your pictures on the AHS Healthy Me! Facebook page with your names so I can know who you are. (Red pins only available for AHS employees.)