February is Heart Health Month!
When blood flow to the heart’s muscle is blocked by cholesterol plaques, the heart can’t do its job of pumping blood to the brain and body, and this is called a heart attack. Heart month is observed every February since 1964, when it was proclaimed by President Johnson to bring awareness to what was killing half of all Americans at the time. To this day, heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the U.S., where just last year 790,000 men and women suffered heart attacks. A buildup of plaque in the arteries is caused by inflammation (smoking, chemical exposure, high blood pressure and inflammatory foods contribute to this) and sticky cholesterol. With gradual buildup, symptoms of angina occur, with chest pain, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue or other symptoms brought on by exertion. If plaque pulls away from the artery wall, a clot forms and causes a sudden heart attack due to complete blockage of blood flow. This leads to damage to heart muscle and possibly death without quick intervention.
Over the years, we have discovered that exercise and healthy eating skills can prevent and reverse the buildup of plaque that leads to heart disease. A whole food plant-based diet, consisting of a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes in their most unprocessed form, has been shown to reverse heart disease as well as diabetes. This diet reduces cholesterol levels, improves blood sugar control and lowers inflammation in the body. It is a simple and inexpensive way of eating and provides all the essential nutrients for good health. Stress reduction, mindfulness and meditation, moderate exercise and quitting smoking all help your heart. Along with healthy diet, these habits reward us with improved energy, better outlook on life, and the satisfaction that you are doing what is good for your heart.
Here are some great resources: Dr. Dean Ornish (www.ornish.com), Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (www.dresselstyn.com) and one that can help you ease your way into a healthier lifestyle, Flexitarian (www.dawnjacksonblatner.com).
Be good to your heart this month and beyond, and live a healthier life!!
Written By: Caroline Kramer, MD
Dr. Caroline Kramer is a board-certified family physician at Avance Care Durham. Dr. Kramer sees patients of all ages, newborn to geriatrics, and does skin procedures such as mole removal, wart treatment and Nexplanon insertion.
She is from Virginia, but loves the North Carolina mountains and beaches. When she isn’t out hiking or gardening, she can usually be found in the kitchen working on a new vegan recipe.