10 Ways to Prevent or Reverse Heart Disease Without Taking Drugs
"Dr. Hyman, my father has heart disease, his father did too and I'm obviously concerned about my own heart," writes this week's house call. "What can I do to prevent heart disease?"
Most importantly, please know while genetics contributes to some degree, many other factors completely within your control can contribute to or reverse heart disease.
Genetics loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger. The way you eat, how much you exercise, how you manage stress and your exposure to environmental toxins all contribute to things like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and of course, heart disease.
The current way doctors treat heart disease is misguided because they treat the risk factors not the causes. To think we can treat heart disease by lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure and lowering blood sugar with medication is like mopping up the floor while the sink overflows.
Instead, we need to ask what causes these risk factors like high blood pressure, high blood sugar or abnormal cholesterol in the first place. Spoiler alert: These are not medication deficiencies. We treat these problems with medication, but studies have increasingly shown that treating these risk factors has only little benefit or none at all. Research shows changing your lifestyle can be a more powerful intervention to prevent heart disease than any medication.
The “EPIC" study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine studied how 23,000 people adhered to four simple behaviors: Not smoking, exercising 3.5 hours a week, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight. Adhering to those four behaviors alone prevented 93 percent of diabetes, 81 percent of heart attacks, 50 percent of strokes and 36 percent of all cancers.
Likewise, the INTERHEART study, published in the Lancet in 2004, followed 30,000 people in 52 countries. Researchers found changing lifestyle could prevent at least 90 percent of all heart disease.
Other research shows lifestyle intervention becomes more effective than almost any other traditional medical intervention to reduce cardiovascular disease, hypertension, heart failure, stroke, cancer, diabesity and deaths from all causes.
Your environment, in turn, changes gene expression, subsequently modulating inflammation, oxidative stress and metabolic dysfunction. These are the reasons we get sick and develop heart disease along with other problems.
That's actually good news. Addressing and fixing the root causes benefits most chronic disease. These modifications will make you feel alive and healthy without the side effects of medication.
Occasionally, I will use medications if I feel a patient shows a strong genetic predisposition for heart disease or if significant heart disease already exists. Under those circumstances, I carefully weigh a medication's risks and benefits.
At the same time, most patients can achieve the benefits of most medications through lifestyle changes.
Dr. David Jenkins from the University of Toronto compared treatment with statin drugs (the number one cholesterol medication) with a diet rich in viscous fiber, almonds, soy and plant sterols. Researchers in this study found that, while they created almost equal benefits, diet became more effective to lower inflammation and homocysteine (a risk marker for heart disease).
I've, likewise, had patients lower their cholesterol (sometimes more than 100 points) simply by incorporating positive dietary and lifestyle changes.
Simply put, preventative medicine becomes the best form of medicine. These 10 simple modifications can go a long way to preventing or reversing heart disease.
1. Eat a healthy diet. Increase healthy, whole foods rich in nutrients and phytonutrients (plant molecules). Aim for at least 8 to 10 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. These foods are loaded with disease-fighting vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory molecules.
2. Steady your blood sugar. Studies show blood sugar imbalances contribute to heart disease. Stabilize your blood sugar with protein, healthy fat and healthy carbohydrates at every meal. Never eat carbohydrates alone and avoid processed sugars with carbohydrates. I discuss this more in-depth in The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet.
3. Increase your fiber. Work your way up to 50 grams of fiber per day. High-fiber foods include vegetables, nuts, seeds and lower-sugar fruits like berries. If that becomes a challenge, try a fiber supplement such as PGX (Konjac fiber or glucomannan).
4. Avoid processed, junk foods. That includes sodas, juices and diet drinks, which adversely impact sugar and lipid metabolism. Research shows liquid-sugar calories become the biggest contributor to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Don't be fooled that 100 percent fruit juice is healthy. Juices are essentially pure, liquid sugar because processing strips away the fruit's fiber.
5. Increase omega-3 fatty acids. Eat anti-inflammatory foods like cold-water fish including salmon, sardines and herring, as well as flaxseeds and even seaweed. Healthy fat actually benefits your heart by improving your overall cholesterol profile. It also lowers the small, dangerous LDL particles that contribute to heart disease by converting them into light, fluffy, safe LDL particles. I discuss how healthy fat can help you achieve and maintain good health in my new book, Eat Fat, Get Thin.
6. Eliminate all hydrogenated fat. Hydrogenated fat lurks in margarine, shortening, processed oils and many baked goods and processed foods like cookies and crackers. Even when the label states “no trans fats," the word “hydrogenated" indicates that the product contains trans fat in one or more of the ingredients. Use healthy oils instead like coconut oil (rich in medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs), extra-virgin, organic, cold-pressed, olive oil, organic sesame oil and other nut oils. You can now find MCT oil in my store.
7. Avoid or reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol can raise triglycerides, contribute to fatty liver and create sugar imbalances. Reducing or eliminating alcohol intake lowers inflammation, which contributes to heart disease and nearly every other chronic disease.
8. Take quality supplements. Combined with a healthy diet and exercise program, supplements can dramatically improve cardiovascular health. Take a good multi-vitamin/mineral along with a purified fish oil supplement that contains 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams a day of EPA/DHA. (You might need higher doses if you have low HDL and high triglycerides.) I also recommend a fiber supplement such as PGX (Konjac fiber or gluccomanan) to lower cholesterol and balance blood sugar levels. You can find these and other supplements in my store.
9. Get out and move! Research shows 30 to 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least five times a week can benefit your heart. After all, your heart is a muscle and muscles need exercise. If you feel stronger and more capable, high-intensity interval training (also called burst training) and strength training help build muscle, reduce body fat composition and maintain strong bones. You simply cannot age successfully without sufficient, optimal exercise.
10. Manage stress levels. Stress alone can cause a heart attack. Sadly, chronic stress often triggers a cascade of events that cause that final, fatal heart attack. Among its problems, stress increases inflammation, raises your cholesterol and blood sugar, increases blood pressure and even makes your blood more likely to clot. Find your pause button to manage stress and relax. Yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, breathing techniques and guided imagery can lower stress. Many patients find my UltraCalm CD helps dials down stress levels very effectively.
Join us April 28, for the Eat Fat, Get Thin Challenge. You can lose weight, reduce inflammation and reverse symptoms of chronic disease.
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By Jake Johnson
In a move that environmentalists warned could further imperil hundreds of endangered species and a protected habitat for the sake of profit, President Donald Trump on Friday signed a proclamation rolling back an Obama-era order and opening nearly 5,000 square miles off the coast of New England to commercial fishing.
Why You Should Wash Fresh Produce<p>Global pandemic or not, properly washing fresh fruits and vegetables is a good habit to practice to minimize the ingestion of potentially harmful residues and germs.</p><p>Fresh produce is handled by numerous people before you purchase it from the grocery store or the farmers market. It's best to assume that not every hand that has touched fresh produce has been clean.</p><p>With all of the people constantly bustling through these environments, it's also safe to assume that much of the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fresh-vs-frozen-fruit-and-vegetables" target="_blank">fresh produce</a> you purchase has been coughed on, sneezed on, and breathed on as well.</p><p>Adequately washing fresh fruits and vegetables before you eat them can significantly reduce residues that may be left on them during their journey to your kitchen.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Washing fresh fruits and vegetables is a proven way to remove germs and unwanted residues from their surfaces before eating them.</p>
Best Produce Cleaning Methods<p>While rinsing fresh produce with water has long been the traditional method of preparing fruits and veggies before consumption, the current pandemic has many people wondering whether that's enough to really clean them.</p><p>Some people have advocated the use of soap, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/white-vinegar" target="_blank">vinegar</a>, lemon juice, or even commercial cleaners like bleach as an added measure.</p><p>However, health and food safety experts, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), strongly urge consumers not to take this advice and stick with plain water.</p><p>Using such substances may pose further health dangers, and they're unnecessary to remove the most harmful residues from produce. <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/chlorine-poisoning" target="_blank">Ingesting commercial cleaning chemicals</a> like bleach can be lethal and should never be used to clean food.</p><p>Furthermore, substances like lemon juice, vinegar, and produce washes have not been shown to be any more effective at cleaning produce than plain water — and may even leave additional deposits on food.</p><p>While some research has suggested that using neutral electrolyzed water or a baking soda bath can be even more effective at removing certain substances, the consensus continues to be that cool tap water is sufficient in most cases.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>The best way to wash fresh produce before eating it is with cool water. Using other substances is largely unnecessary. Plus they're often not as effective as water and gentle friction. Commercial cleaners should never be used on food.</p>
How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables With Water<p>Washing fresh fruits and vegetables in cool water before eating them is a good practice when it comes to health hygiene and food safety.</p><p>Note that fresh produce should not be washed until right before you're ready to eat it. Washing fruits and vegetables before storing them may create an environment in which bacterial growth is more likely.</p><p>Before you begin washing fresh produce, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-should-you-wash-your-hands" target="_blank">wash your hands well</a> with soap and water. Be sure that any utensils, sinks, and surfaces you're using to prepare your produce are also thoroughly cleaned first.</p><p>Begin by cutting away any bruised or visibly rotten areas of fresh produce. If you're handling a fruit or vegetable that'll be peeled, such as an orange, wash it before peeling it to prevent any surface bacteria from entering the flesh.</p><p>The general methods to wash produce are as follows:</p><ul><li><strong>Firm produce.</strong> Fruits with firmer skins like apples, lemons, and pears, as well as <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/root-vegetables" target="_blank">root vegetables</a> like potatoes, carrots, and turnips, can benefit from being brushed with a clean, soft bristle to better remove residues from their pores.</li><li><strong>Leafy greens.</strong> Spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, leeks, and cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and bok choy should have their outermost layer removed, then be submerged in a bowl of cool water, swished, drained, and rinsed with fresh water.</li><li><strong>Delicate produce.</strong> Berries, mushrooms, and other types of produce that are more likely to fall apart can be cleaned with a steady stream of water and gentle friction using your fingers to remove grit.</li></ul><p>Once you have thoroughly rinsed your produce, dry it using a clean paper or cloth towel. More fragile produce can be laid out on the towel and gently patted or rolled around to dry them without damaging them.</p><p>Before consuming your fruits and veggies, follow the simple steps above to minimize the amount of germs and substances that may be on them.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Most fresh fruits and veggies can gently be scrubbed under cold running water (using a clean soft brush for those with firmer skins) and then dried. It can help to soak, drain, and rinse produce that has more dirt-trapping layers.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Practicing good food hygiene is an important health habit. Washing fresh produce helps minimize surface germs and residues that could make you sick.</p><p>Recent fears during the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/coronavirus" target="_blank">COVID-19 pandemic</a> have caused many people to wonder whether more aggressive washing methods, such as using soap or commercial cleaners on fresh produce, are better.</p><p>Health professionals agree that this isn't recommended or necessary — and could even be dangerous. Most fruits and vegetables can be sufficiently cleaned with cool water and light friction right before eating them.</p><p>Produce that has more layers and surface area can be more thoroughly washed by swishing it in a bowl of cool water to remove dirt particles.</p><p>Fresh fruits and vegetables offer a number of healthy nutrients and should continue to be eaten, as long as safe cleaning methods are practiced.</p>
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From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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