Chances are you’re still riding the New Year’s high and you’re motivated and committed to eating healthy and getting to the gym. Sure, it’s a good start for your waistline but there are other things that you probably never thought of that will also prevent a heart attack or stroke. Try these.
1. Take probiotics.
There’s more evidence than ever that the gut microbiome, or the collection of billions of bacteria in the GI tract, is necessary for digestion, strengthens immunity and regulates inflammation. Yet when the bacteria are imbalanced, it can lead to problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and may even lead to heart attack and stroke.
The good news is that taking probiotics daily and maintaining a healthy diet can help. In fact, a study in the International Journal of Cardiology found when patients with congestive heart failure took saccharomyces boulardii, a type of probiotic, their conditions improved.
You can also ask your doctor about the TMAO blood test, which measures how healthy your GI tract is and determine your level of TMAO, a chemical in the gut that directly damages the arteries and the heart, said Dr. Joel Kahn, a clinical professor of medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Mich. and author of “The Whole Heart Solution.”
2. Get help for sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea, which affects more than 18 million people, significantly increases your risk for high blood pressure, especially at night. What’s more, people with sleep apnea may also have resistant hypertension, or high blood pressure that doesn’t respond to treatment and significantly increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, said Dr. Peter Jones, an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Tex. and chief science officer of the National Lipid Association. Sleep apnea can also increase your risk for atrial fibrillation, which can lead to blood clots and stroke.
If you suspect you have sleep apnea or your partner complains about your snoring, talk to your doctor about having a sleep study, which you may be able to do at home, as well as treatment options.
3. Make a dentist appointment.
You already know that brushing, flossing and dental cleanings every six months is one of the best ways to prevent periodontal or gum disease, but it can also prevent heart disease.
Just like your gut, your mouth has bacteria that is either beneficial or bad for the blood vessels and the heart. So in addition to preventive care, ask your doctor about an oral DNA test which can tell you how much of each type of bacteria you have and help him customize a treatment plan for you, Kahn said.
4. Question cholesterol tests.
A standard lipid panel looks at total cholesterol, “good” HDL cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Yet if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, are overweight or obese, have a poor diet, are sedentary and have a family history of heart disease, your doctor should also look at the LDL particle count and apolipoprotein B (apoB).
“Those are both better measures of your true risk related to bad cholesterol,” Jones said.
Plus, your doctor may also do a blood test to look at your C-reactive protein (CRP) level, a sign of inflammation.
5. Lose belly fat.
You might think your beer belly is just a sign of getting older, but excess belly fat can increase your risk for heart disease and death. In fact, a recent study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that people with a large waist-to-hip ratio were more likely to die prematurely even if they had a normal BMI.
6. Check your homocysteine level.
If you’re deficient in vitamins B6, B12 or folic acid, you can have high levels of homocysteine, an important amino acid in the blood, which can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease and artery damage, Kahn said. Plus, a common genetic defect known as MTHFR can affect your homocysteine levels too.
The good news is that if your blood homocysteine levels are elevated or you have MTHFR, a B complex supplement is all that’s needed.
7. Make meals tasty.
A study in The BMJ found that eating a spicy meal once a week significantly reduced the risk from dying of heart disease. So experiment with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, parsley, rosemary and thyme in your meals.
8. Look on the bright side.
Seeing the glass half-empty has a wealth of benefits and heart health is no exception. In fact, a study out of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found that optimistic people have better cardiovascular health than pessimists.
9. Get help for anxiety and depression.
Studies show that both anxiety and depression not only lead to cardiovascular disease but in patients who already have cardiovascular disease, it can cause recurrent cardiovascular events and death. If you struggle with either, it’s important to talk to your doctor and get treatment and find ways to keep stress at bay.
10. Stand up.
Studies show that more time spent sitting leads to coronary artery calcification and damage to the arteries. Exercise during commercials, take frequent breaks from your computer or consider a treadmill desk.
Getting enough sleep lowers adrenaline and cortisol levels and heart disease risk. But more isn’t always better. Aim for seven hours a night, which studies suggest is the magic number.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.