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10 Ways to Prevent or Reverse Heart Disease Without Taking Drugs

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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 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.

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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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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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