Wednesday, February 10, 2016


     Valentine's Day is almost here - so what better time to nurture a healthy, open and loving heart? From a purely physical standpoint, heart disease is a huge problem in Canada, but the good news is that 80% of cardiovascular disease is caused by risk factors we can control. From a "love" perspective, just tune into popular culture or the news these days and it is clear that our perceptions of love are complex and distorted. This may surprise you, but a heart healthy lifestyle includes making wise food choices, exercising regularly and nurturing emotional and spiritual wellness. That's right - your doctor may not have told you that you've gotta let your love light shine if you want to prevent a heart attack.  Let's get to the heart of the matter and look at some of the ways we can cultivate a holistic heart healthy lifestyle.
     A lot of misinformation has been circulating about what constitutes a healthy diet - especially when it comes to heart disease. If you are still afraid of saturated fats and cholesterol and are avoiding foods containing these things you will deprive your body of vital nutrients. The cholesterol that our bodies produce and which we consume from whole, healthy, unprocessed traditional foods, does not cause heart disease. Rather, the popular substitutes that are consumed instead of saturated fats contain many components that have been associated with increased rates of heart disease - such as polyunsaturated oils (soybean, corn & sunflower), trans fatty acids (hydrogenated oil, shortening & margarine), and refined sugar. A form of cholesterol that is dangerous to consume is that which has been oxidized or is rancid - which occurs in powdered eggs and milk which are found in processed foods. Keep an eye out for powdered milk which is more often than not added to yogurt these days. Opt for organic, un-homogenized, and preferably raw milk yogurt with no added thickeners or powdered milk. Or better yet, make your own. Powdered milk is also often added to low-fat milk to give it more body. Choose full fat and un-homogenized milk - also preferably raw.

     A healthy immune system is a vitally important for heart health. Pathogenic bacteria and viruses have been associated with the development of coronary heart disease. When a weak immune system is unable to deal with these pathogens, they cause havoc on your heart. A healthy immune system depends on many nutrients, including Vitamin A, C and minerals which play an antioxidant role. Animal fats carry Vitamin A and palmitoleic acid, which has strong anti-microbial properties. Butter and coconut oil also contain similar properties and thus are an important part of a heart healthy diet.
     A heart healthy diet requires that you avoid all processed foods labeled "low-fat" and which contain white flour and additives. Consume high-quality animal products including wild seafood and milk, butter, cheese, eggs, meat, fats and organ meat from animals raised on green pasture. Consume many fresh and organically grown vegetables and fruits. Optimize mineral intake by using whole dairy products, mineral rich bone broths, and whole grains/legumes and nuts that have been properly prepared (soaked or sprouted) to reduce phytic acid and other factors that block mineral absorption.

     Instead of taking synthetic vitamin and mineral supplements, consider including in your diet  foods rich in protective factors such as cod liver oil (Vitamins A & D), wheat germ oil (Vitamin E), flax oil (omega 3 fatty acids), kelp (iodine), brewer's yeast (B vitamins), desiccated liver (Vitamin B12), rose hip or acerola powder (vitamin C), and coconut oil (antimicrobial fatty acids). Obtaining your nutrients from whole foods instead of vitamin pills increase your likelihood of absorption and assimilation.

     High quality, unrefined salt is essential to life, and is a major component of your blood, lymph, and other vital bodily fluids. Salt carries nutrients in and out of your cells. It maintains and regulates blood pressure. YOU CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT IT. The idea that salt is bad for you and contributes to heart disease has been scientifically proven wrong for many years, yet the myth still persists in our culture. What you should focus on is the quality of your salt - opt for mineral rich, unrefined sea or Himalayan salt instead of the highly processed and additive laden iodized table salt.

     Smoking cigarettes increases your likelihood of coronary heart disease. Every time you take a puff you are inhaling dangerous chemicals and free radicals which promote the growth of atherosclerotic plaques which cause heart disease. Chronic carbon monoxide intoxication from smoking limits the heart's ability to use oxygen, which as you can imagine is not a good thing. The hazards of smoking are compounded by the fact that the modern processed diet does not contain the nutrients required protect us from the negative effects of cigarettes.

     Regular physical activity is a key element to a heart healthy lifestyle. Doesn't matter what kind of exercise, just make sure you move your body at least 3 times a week for at least 30 minutes. When you exercise, the heart beats more rapidly, the arteries widen to provide more oxygen and arterial blood flow improves. Exercise also improves mood and decreases stress which makes for a happier (and you guessed it) more loving person which is great for heart health.

     No discussion of heart health is complete until stress is mentioned. Stress affects behaviours and factors that increase heart disease risk like high blood pressure, drinking, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating. Many of these are coping mechanisms people use to "manage" their stress, but unfortunately don't fix the problem and actually cause more harm.
     Many doctors have noticed that heart attacks often occur just after severe emotional trauma and periods of high stress such as loss of a spouse or close friend, bankruptcy, layoff or dissapointment. Years of malnourishment, unhealthy lifestyle, and improper diet create a system so fragile that in times of crisis we lack the resilience to deal with extreme stress.

     Your heart centre, or heart chakra, is related to all things love. It is the bridge between the lower body (physical self), and the upper body (the inner, intuitive, spiritual self).  Our heart allows us to feel compassion, empathy, sensitivity, and gives us the ability to love deeply. Our emotional energy comes from the heart centre, and if we have blocked energy in this area of the body we are unhappy, unbalanced, sad and depressed. When our hearts are open and balanced we can have a deep sense of peace, happiness, and an overall sense of well being. No one wants to feel isolated and sad - we are designed to enjoy our lives and be happy. Achieving and maintaining an open and balanced heart centre should be our number one priority for health and well being.  
     The Sanskrit word for the fourth chakra is Anahata, which means "unstruck" or "unhurt". The name implies that beneath the pain of our experiences lies a pure and spiritual place where no hurt exists. It is impossible to avoid situations where someone may try to hurt you, but it is possible to choose what to do with that hurt. I often say to my children "Two wrongs don't make a right." That is the essence of anahata. When you inflict pain on others your are living from a place of fear, ignorance or hatred, which contribute to a closed heart centre. Love is a choice, not a consequence or stroke of luck. Choose love in every moment for heart health.