Diet and cardiovascular health

Diet and Cardiovascular Health
Brisbane South Naturopath shares the latest research

Brisbane South side Naturopath and Acupuncturist, Michelle Blum looks at evidence based dietary interventions for cardio-vascular health.

Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of illness and death in Australia. Such prevalence results in a landslide of well-meaning but conflicting advice and misinformation, particularly online. The risk factors for cardiovascular disease when identified and addressed early, can make all the difference for preventing a cardiovascular event such as a stroke or a heart attack.

Naturopathic in-clinic screening methods for cardiovascular disease may include:

  • Monitoring your blood pressure and pulse
  • Analysing your iris, tongue and nails
  • Checking your waist circumference
  • Testing your blood circulation and respiratory health
  • Exploring other risk factors such as diet, exercise
    and physical environment

To assess your risk of cardiovascular disease, your Naturopath can also interpret routine blood test results and explain the relationship between markers such as

  • Cholesterol / triglycerides and the importance of their ratios
  • C-reactive protein which is a marker of inflammation
  • Vitamin B12, B6 and folate levels
  • Homocysteine levels

High homocysteine levels can directly contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease, by increasing the damaging effect of cholesterol on the blood vessel walls. Homocysteine levels can become elevated if you are not getting enough vitamin B12, B6 or folate in your diet, or if your ability to absorb these nutrients isn’t quite up to scratch.  

What’s the best diet for preventing cardiovascular disease?

The results are in – a 2019 study followed over 16 000 adults and found that those who followed a mostly plant-based diet were at a lower risk of heart failure than those who followed a diet high in processed or fried foods and consumed sugar sweetened beverages1. The plant-based diet group were at 41% lower risk for experiencing heart failure. Unsurprisingly, the fried diet group were evaluated as having a 71% increase in risk of heart failure1.

A plant-based diet is also less likely to result in the formation of trimethylamine n-oxide (TMAO), a metabolite produced by gut bacteria which plays a role in how fats are processed in the liver2. Higher levels of TMAO are often
found in cases of cardiovascular disease. Because TMAO is formed during the breakdown of certain nutrients found in red meat, egg yolk and full fat dairy products, limiting these foods can help to reduce risk. Interestingly, choosing balsamic vinegar and olive oil can help negate the effects of TMAO2.

What about a vegetarian diet for stroke?

When assessing over 13 000 people for a link between diet and risk of stroke, researchers found that those on a vegetarian diet, enjoy a 74% lower risk of stroke3. It is important to note that a strictly vegetarian diet can result in inadequate intake of important nutrients like vitamin B6 and B12. Deficiency in these vitamins can elevate homocysteine levels which as mentioned above, can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. The solution? Consider decreasing your intake of animal products and increase the quality of the products you’re choosing! Still include some high quality animal products but choose organic or grass-fed options for your meat and eggs.

Olive oil or coconut oil – which is healthier in for the heart?

Many people are choosing coconut oil over other cooking oils such as olive or canola oil. However, a recent study found that coconut oil does have the ability to raise levels of LDL cholesterol, which is problematic for those at risk of cardiovascular disease4. This study was based on the consumption of 3-4 tablespoons of coconut oil per day – an amount most people aren’t going to be eating on a daily basis.

A 2020 study found that replacing just a teaspoon of margarine, butter or mayonnaise with olive oil per day, reduces risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 7%5. The study was conducted in the United States over 24 years and determined that those who consumed ½ a tablespoon of olive oil per day were 14% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease and 18% less likely to develop coronary heart disease5.

The key points:

  • A plant-based diet decreases risk of heart failure, while a diet featuring fried or highly processed foods and drinks has a higher risk of heart failure
  • A Mediterranean style diet with a range of plant fibres from vegetables, legumes, nuts and fruits with a daily dose of high quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar can help to mediate the effects of animal products in cardiovascular disease risk
  • Don’t overdo the coconut oil and replace high fat condiments with olive oil

Contact Michelle Blum Natural Health if you would like to book an appointment or discuss how Naturopathy and/or Acupuncture can assist you with your particular health concern.

Reference List:

1.       Lara KM, Levitan EB, Gutierrez OM, et al. Dietary Patterns and Incident Heart Failure in U.S. Adults Without Known Coronary Disease. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2019. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2019.01.067

2.       Senthong V, Wang Z, Fan Y, Wu Y, Hazen SL, Tang WHW. Trimethylamine N-oxide and mortality risk in patients
with peripheral artery disease. J Am Heart Assoc. 2016. 
doi:10.1161/JAHA.116.004237

3.       Chiu THT, Chang H-R, Wang L-Y, Chang C-C, Lin M-N, Lin C-L. Vegetarian diet and incidence of total, ischemic, and hemorrhagic stroke in 2 cohorts in Taiwan. Neurology. 2020;0:10.1212/WNL.0000000000009093. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000009093

4.       Eyres L, Eyres MF, Chisholm A, Brown RC. Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans.
Nutr Rev. 2016. 
doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuw002

5.       Marta Guasch-Ferré, Gang Liu, Yanping Li, Laura Sampson, JoAnn E. Manson, Jordi Salas-Salvadó, Miguel A.
Martínez-González, Meir J. Stampfer, Walter C. Willett QS and FBH. Olive Oil Consumption and Cardiovascular Risk in U.S. Adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020;(March).


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