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The prevalence of heart disease has been associated with increased dietary intake of saturated fats and refined foods. Those foods often begin creeping up on the body like a culprit, by bumping up blood cholesterol without any notice. It’s like a country secretly setting up missiles, adding in one at a time, to surround another ruling in preparation for a massive attack. That build up of cholesterol then hardens blood vessels, putting a stop to their elastic properties and taking away from their ability to stabilize blood pressure. The build up of cholesterol also creates hardened plaques inside blood vessels; if these plaques develop inside the vessels that deliver oxygen to heart muscles then it will partially block the delivery of oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the heart, causing the heart muscle to slowly deteriorate. This condition is known as coronary heart disease.

There are many pharmacological therapies, such as Statins, used to treat cholesterol levels and heart disease. Although effective, they are tolling on the body due to their many side effects and the costs of treatment create a dent in our life (just as we discussed in our last blog post). So as a better alternative, there is now sufficient evidence supporting certain dietary intake in reducing the risk and symptoms of heart disease.

Older studies, like the Seven Country Study that was publicized in 1970s emphasized the negative effects of fat intake as a whole on heart health. As more evidence has accumulated over the years, we now know that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats brings forth great benefits for reducing the effects and prevalence of heart disease. The strongest and most consistent protective associations are seen with fruit and vegetables, fish, and whole grains. Meanwhile, the greatest harm has been seen with diets high in red meats, processed meats, processed grains, fried foods, and processed sugars.

The effectiveness of diet on heart health was further shown in four metabolically controlled four week trials that individually explored the effectiveness of nuts, plant sterols, viscous fibre and vegetable protein in lowering blood level cholesterol. The study revealed that compliance to intake of these four foods is equally as effective as a first generation statin (cholesterol lowering medication) in reducing risk of coronary heart disease.

Unlike the statin medications, adhering to the proper diet would not cause unpleasant side effects (like muscle spasms and increased liver enzyme levels). This also means that by decreasing your blood cholesterol level and improving your heart health through diet, you will no longer have to seek lifelong medical care. You will not have to take as much time off of work and away from your life commitments to see specialists, complete diagnostic tests, and buy medication for daily use.

New evidence is showing that genetics play a crucial role in the connection between diet and heart health. Although the concept of personalized nutrition and individualized dietary plans are extremely important, it is indisputable that nutrition plays a key role in prevention and reduction of heart disease.

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