Your heart supplies your body with the oxygen and nutrients you need to live. In fact, it beats about 75 times a minute and 100,000 times a day.
This powerful organ is a true biological miracle—yet most of us take it for granted. I am sure you have probably heard the bad news about heart health:
"Every 34 seconds someone dies of heart disease!"
The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that heart disease is currently the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.
According to the AHA, there are six controllable risk factors that can contribute to the development of heart disease:
Minimizing these risk factors is obviously important in keeping your heart healthy and strong. But let’s take it a step further.
How and when does heart disease begin?
Atherosclerosis, the narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, is the most common cause of heart disease.
Atherosclerosis develops slowly over time and symptoms usually do not appear until middle age or older. However, in recent years researchers have found that six out of ten teenagers have significant fat deposits in their arteries, which is the precursor to blockage.
Heart disease begins in childhood and is largely determined by the food we eat and the water we drink—or lack thereof!
As far as I am concerned, the risk factors noted above simply compound the problems of unhealthy eating and dehydration.
To comprehend why drinking enough water and eating heart-healthy foods can have such a significant impact on the heart, we need to understand know the basic underlying causes of arterial blockage.
It generally begins with lesions and cracks that form in the blood vessel walls near the heart.
Next, the body tries to repair itself by depositing fatty substances, such as cholesterol, inside the blood vessels to help fill in the lesions.
Over time, these fatty deposits build up, clogging blood vessels and causing a heart attack or stroke.
So what causes the lesions in the blood vessels? Primarily free radicals and other toxins that collect in the blood.
The human body has to deal with many adversities such as increasing amounts of pollution, medications, environmental toxins, processed foods, and sedentary lifestyles. These factors can all contribute to creating an unhealthy cardiovascular system.
From a nutritional standpoint, I believe the early onset of heart disease begins primarily with chronic dehydration, excess consumption of animal foods, processed and refined foods, as well as all forms of sugar and excess starchy carbohydrates.
Chronic dehydration is a significant contributor to the onset of heart disease.
Dehydration specifically contributes to the top two risk factors: high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.
When your body is fully hydrated, your blood is about 94 percent water. When dehydrated, especially over a long period of time, the blood becomes thicker, which causes resistance to blood flow and raises blood pressure.
In addition, when your body is dehydrated, it will increase the production of cholesterol to prevent further water loss from the cells.
Thus, your body, believing it is in survival mode from a lack of water intake, will essentially use the cholesterol as a plug to seal off the cells from too much water loss.
Note: No other beverages will replace the need for plain water in your body. Just be sure the water you drink is filtered of chemical and biological contaminants!
Contrary to popular belief, a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet does not reduce the risk of heart disease. For decades we were told that any kind of fat is bad for the heart and that eating fat would make us fat.
Many people listened to the “experts” and stopped eating high-fat foods like fish and nuts and loaded up on low-fat, high-carbohydrate foods like pasta and cereal. Unfortunately, this dietary trend contributed to an increased rate of diabetes and heart disease, as well as to the obesity epidemic.
In addition, while we were eliminating healthy fats from our diet, we were encouraged to use man-made fats like margarine and processed cooking oils, which were supposed to be heart healthy. Unfortunately, the experts were wrong.
The medical community has finally acknowledged the importance of healthy fats found in foods such as raw nuts and seeds, avocados, fish oil, and high-quality oils, such as extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil.
Food fat is an essential nutrient, but it is critical to know the difference between good fat and bad fat.
Two of the most important fats to avoid are trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated fats, commonly found in processed and packaged foods.
The most common healthy fats include nuts and nut butters, avocados, olives and olive oil, coconut oil, and healthy fat fish, such as salmon and halibut.
You may be wondering how eating fat relates to cholesterol. Even though there may be some correlation between high blood cholesterol and heart disease, it might surprise you to learn that cholesterol has never been proven to cause heart disease.
In fact, your body uses cholesterol to make hormones that help you deal with stress and protect against heart disease. In addition, cholesterol acts as an antioxidant, protecting us against free-radical damage that leads to arterial damage.
However, cholesterol does become a problem when it is oxidized! Dr. Enig writes:
“Heat and oxygen can damage cholesterol just as they do fats. Damaged, or ‘oxidized,’ cholesterol can injure arterial walls and lead to a pathological plaque buildup in the arteries. Both of these changes can result in heart disease.
"That’s why we recommend that you avoid foods that contain damaged cholesterol, such as powdered eggs and powdered milk (which manufacturers add to reduced-fat milk, yogurt, and other dairy products to give them body—without stating this fact on the label).
“Ironically, when you choose reduced-fat milks in order to avoid heart disease, you consume the very form of cholesterol that can cause heart disease.”
Without sounding too simplistic, drinking enough water daily and eating primarily a plant-based, whole-foods diet is the best way to prevent and reverse heart disease.
The following are simple tips for eating foods and drinking enough water for heart health:
Choosing the right foods and drinking enough water for heart health can prevent disease.
You only have one heart and so many daily food and beverage choices to keep it healthy.
The beverage choice is easy: Water, water and more clean water!
For more specific food choices for heart health, check out the WebMD recommendations below.
Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon; Eat Fat, Lose Fat; 2006.
Jack P. Strong, Gray T. Malcolm, et al., “Prevalence and extent of atherosclerosis in adolescents and young adults,” Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 281, 1999, pp. 727-35.