Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Heart Health - A Naturopathic Perspective

Cardiovascular disease is one of the most common causes of death in North America.  For the most part, cardiovascular disease is preventable. It depends slowly over time due to lifestyle, chronic stress and environmental factors.  Although prevention of heart disease is the primary goal of naturopathic medicine, there are many naturopathic therapies that are very effective in the treatment of disease as well.

Categories of Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease can be grouped into four main categories: generalized cardiovascular disorders, disease of the heart, peripheral vascular disorders and blood disorders.

Factors that Contribute to Cardiovascular Disease

a) Lifestyle Factors

The lifestyle factors that may increase a person's risk of cardiovascular disease include:

  • Water
    • Dehydration, especially chronic dehydration
  • Food Choices and Dietary Regimen
    • food sensitivities can contribute to heart disease
    • diets high in animal protein, cholesterol and fat 
    • high glycemic foods or foods high in salt or sugar
    • nutrient deficiencies
    • consuming large meals and eating too close to bedtime
  • Lack of Movement
    • lack of overall physical activity
    • sedentary lifestyle
    • lack of flexibility
    • excessive weight lifting, especially if focused on the upper body
  • Lack of Sleep
    • Insomnia, shortened sleep cycle and disrupted sleep can all contribute to heart disease.

b) Stress Factors

  • Chronic stress is a contributing factor to cardiovascular disease. It is also commonly associated with cardiovascular events such as stroke or heart attack.

c) Environmental Factors

  • Environmental toxins, such as heavy metals and chemical contribute to the development of heart disease. Air and water quality also play a role.
  • Pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria can result in acute and chronic cardiovascular disease.

d) Other Factors

  • Smoking, both first-hand and second-hand, is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Genetics can play a role, especially if a parent or first-degree relative experienced a cardiovascular event early in life. 
  • Prescription medication is commonly associated with chronic cardiovascular disease.

Conditions Associated with Cardiovascular Disease

There are a number of conditions associated with cardiovascular disease. When treating or preventing cardiovascular disease it is often important to address these conditions as well.
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • kidney disease
  • thyroid disease
  • endocrine disorders

Testing for Cardiovascular Disease

Standard medical testing often relies on cholesterol levels as the primary indication of cardiovascular health and/or risk of a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.  There are a number of other blood markers that can be very effective in both determining the degree of cardiovascular disease and the best treatment options.  They include: (to learn more about these test click on the word)
Testing for the factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease is an important part of treatment and prevention.  This testing may include:
  • Food sensitivity testing
  • Environmental toxin exposure
  • Adrenal stress testing
If you have a family history of heart disease or would like to assess your risk for heart disease talk to your naturopathic doctor about the tests above to see if they are appropriate for you.

Treating Cardiovascular Disease

The treatment strategy that is required depends on the current health risk and the severity of the disease process.  In high risk or progressive states medication may be required.  The general naturopathic treatment strategy is as follows:
  1. Determine the degree of health risk and stage of disease.
  2. Addressing the lifestyle factors such as diet, movement, water intake; stress and environmental factors needs to be part of every treatment strategy - whether one chooses naturopathic treatments or conventional treatments.
  3. Herbs, nutraceuticals and other naturopathic treatments are used to:
    • effectively lower cholesterol or high blood pressure
    • address atherosclerosis or other vascular disorders
    • address the mental-emotional impact of stress on cardiovascular health
    • balance out and address the side-effects of many cardiovascular medications, such as those taken for hypertension or high cholesterol.
The advantages of the naturopathic approach to heart disease is that it focuses on treating the causes of disease, it recognizes that integration of a person's lifestyle and environment with their health status and it utilizes effective therapies without many of the side-effects of prescription medications.

For more information on how naturopathic medicine can assist you in achieving and maintaining a healthy heart talk to one of our naturopathic doctors.