10 Natural ways to protect your heart

heartAre you worrying about the health of your heart but don’t want to take medication or pills? If your family has a long history of heart problems or disease, then it might be a good idea to start protecting your heart by looking at natural alternatives. Heart disease affects millions of families and individuals around the world.

If your family doesn’t have a history of heart disease it might still be a good idea to take care of your heart in the best way you can.

Spice Up Your Meals

Jalapenos, habaneros, cayenne pepper, hot sauce — these mouthwatering flavor-boosters can do a whole lot more than just jazz up your chili and nachos. According to University of Cincinnati researchers, capsaicin — what gives these spices their fiery flavor — is a powerful anti-inflammatory compound that prevents the formation of dangerous blood clots in the arteries. In follow-up studies, research found that capsaicin also broke down blood fats before they could be converted into artery-clogging cholesterol. Plus, it relaxed arteries, cutting the risk of damaging blood pressure surges in half.

The study-proven dose: All you need is 1/4 teaspoon of the dried spices, 1 teaspoon of a hot sauce or 1 tablespoon of fresh or pickled hot peppers daily.

Eat a Handful of Pecans Daily

Eating about three ounces of pecans daily can cut your risk of heart disease by 30 percent or more, according to the massive Harvard Nurses Health Study. “Pecans are loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids — a healthy kind of fat that nourishes and strengthens artery walls, helping to prevent plaque buildup,” explains Frank Hu, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. Not a pecan fan? Eating three ounces of your favorite nut every day — or two tablespoons of natural peanut butter (meaning no sugar added!) — will give you the same great protection.

Eat Fruit — Especially Kiwis

Adding two cups of fruit to your daily diet can lower your risk of heart disease as much as 25 percent. “Fruit contains dozens of different nutrients that lower levels of artery-clogging fats, plus help keep your heart’s blood vessels clear and healthy,” says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., the medical director of New York University’s Women’s Heart Program. If your blood pressure starts to creep up, which can weaken artery walls, make kiwis a part of your daily fruit quota. In a recent study at Norway’s Oslo University Hospital, just snacking on a few of these tasty gems each day single-handedly cut blood pressure readings by four points. The kiwi’s lutein — a plant compound that helps artery walls stay relaxed — keeps your blood pressure down even when your stress levels climb.

Hang Out with a Friend

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in America. In addition to keeping your cholesterol and blood pressure at normal levels, you can do many other things to keep your heart healthy. For example, keep up with friends on Facebook, host potluck dinners or just hang out with a friend to watch a movie. The Cleveland Clinic research suggests that nurturing a couple of solid friendships can cut your risk of heart disease by 40 percent and add 12 years to your life — the same health boost that you’d get from eating an amazing diet! Having great friends to chat with and rely on keeps your blood pressure as many as 20 points lower, even during life’s most stressful and trying times, the study authors say. You only need a few minutes a day to send a newsy e-mail, have a quick chat during your lunch break or invite a pal to join you for your walk, to give you the protective perks of friendship, no matter how hectic your schedule!

Eat Your Snack Mid-Afternoon

Just trimming your waistline so it measures 34 inches or less — even if you’re nowhere near your goal weight — will cut your risk of heart disease by 72 percent. “Other fat stores — like the stuff that gives people curvy hips and thighs — just take up space, but belly fat produces a steady stream of heart-damaging inflammation,” explains Michael F. Roizen, M.D., chair of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Cleveland, Ohio. An easy way to flatten a pudgy tummy is to enjoy a daily snack in the mid-afternoon. Snacking in the afternoon helps weight-conscious women shrink their belly fat stores 57 percent faster than if they’d noshed in the a.m., according to Canadian researchers. Why? Snacking later in the day helps tame the evening munchies, cutting up to 300 calories out of your daily diet.

Take Fish Oil Daily

Hundreds of studies document fish oil’s heart-protecting powers: Its omega-3 fats lower your liver’s production of triglycerides — a troublesome type of fat that clogs arteries — as much as 40 percent. Plus, omega-3s make blood less sticky and far less likely to form dangerous clots, say experts at the Inflammation Research Foundation in Marblehead, Mass. Follow-up studies suggest taking fish oil every day can cut your risk of sudden heart failure as much as 90 percent because omega-3 fats help your heart beat strongly and steadily, preventing life-threatening arrhythmias.

The study-proven dose: Three grams of fish oil — or four ounces of fish or seafood — daily.

Eat a Hearty Breakfast

Forget about low-fat breakfast smoothies and egg white omelets. Recent research shows moving most of your daily fat into your morning meal (and saving carbs for later in the day) reduces your production of artery-clogging triglycerides and prevents blood sugar surges — two huge risk factors for heart disease. Eating fat first thing in the morning switches on your body’s natural ability to properly burn and use all types of food — so that far less of it ends up clogging your arteries and damaging your heart, explains study author Molly Bray, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Have some scrambled eggs or an omelet, but skip the toast. If you miss breakfast, add two tablespoons of olive oil or flaxseeds to another meal and you’ll still be cutting your heart disease risk. These fats are packed with polyphenols — compounds that speed healing of damaged heart cells.

Consider an Air Purifier

If you struggle with bad allergies to dust, mold or dander, getting your symptoms under control could cut your risk of heart disease by 30 percent or more, say researchers at Philadelphia’s Albert Einstein Medical Center. The secret: Your immune cells produce a flood of artery-damaging inflammation whenever they attack allergens, so fewer allergy flare-ups means much healthier blood vessels!

Rx: Consider putting an air purifier in the room where you spend of your most time. Even a smaller, moderately-priced purifier can filter out 99 percent of a room’s mold, dust and dander. Ask the staff at your home supply store to check the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) on their different air purifiers, so you’ll know which one is powerful enough to clean the room you plan to put it in.

Tidy Up Your Home

Staying fit by getting roughly 30 minutes of light exercise daily can cut your risk of heart disease in half because exercise raises your production of artery-clearing HDL cholesterol by 10 percent or more. And you don’t have to lace up your sneakers to get this great health perk. In a surprising new study, the fittest women weren’t the ones exercising outdoors — they were the ones with the cleanest houses! People who dust, vacuum, wash floors and keep their homes tidy and organized are naturally active — and it’s often easier to stay fit by puttering around indoors than by trying to carve out time for formal workouts, explains researcher Nicole Keith, Ph.D., associate professor of physical education at Indiana University in Indianapolis.

Sip Hibiscus Tea

When folks with heart-damaging high blood pressure sip 24 ounces of hibiscus tea daily, their pressure readings can plunge 13 points in six weeks. That makes this flavorful brew as powerful as ACE Inhibitors, a class of prescription drugs used to lower blood pressure. Hibiscus contains plant pigments that act like just those artery-relaxing meds, according to researchers at Tufts University. Never tried it? Hibiscus tea is a pretty ruby red color and it has a tangy, fruity flavor similar to cranberry. Look for it in health and whole foods stores.

Prefer coffee? A surprising study at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, CA, suggests that women who drink four cups of coffee daily have an 18 percent lower risk of being hospitalized with wonky heart rhythm problems — like racing or flip-flopping heart beats. Researchers credit coffee’s antioxidants, which nourish heart nerves, preventing dangerous heart arrhythmias from flaring.

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