Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans. The term heart disease includes, under the broad category of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), two subforms: (1) ischemic heart disease (loss of blood supply to the heart muscle, leading to a heart attack) and (2) cerebrovascular disease (loss of blood supply to the brain, leading to a stroke).

In my latest book, The Gene Therapy Plan, I present the etiology of these diseases that most people aren’t aware of. Did you realize that the earliest stages of cardiovascular problems are seen even in fetuses? Too often, heart disease is thought of as the sudden arrival of disaster — the clutching of one’s arm or pounding, crushing chest pain.

Not so. Rather, heart disease is like the long parabola of a baseball in the air, because we notice its movement as it approaches us, but the ball has been descending in a smooth arc for its full flight. The “prehistory” of heart disease comprises two asymptomatic stages — incubation and preclinical or latency. The incubation period stretches from infancy to adolescence — this is the trajectory of heart disease (like the baseball’s path) that we fail to see because it is so distant from our view.

But by the time full-fledged clinical heart disease is apparent, with symptoms like chest pain, most of the damage has already been done. The point, then, is not to be mesmerized into complacency by the lack of tangible consequences. The battle against heart disease, as with all the conditions I cover in The Gene Therapy Plan, is part of a lifelong commitment to actively pursue health through good ecogenetic choices. Make the basic right decisions about diet, and you are already protecting yourself against the bulk of the risks — visible or invisible.

There are, however, specific therapies, for when the disease is nearby or manifests, and I lay out the diagnostic information and nutritional advice according to the large categories of threats, including hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. There are a number of heart-healthy foods and substances that I would recommend to my patients at risk of heart disease.

The omega-3 fats found in cold-water fish like salmon and cod, as well as supplements, have been shown to lower blood pressure. Rose hips and extracts in black tea are also effective antihypertensive nutrients.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a powerful, natural, fat-soluble antioxidant found in the majority of cells in the body; it also converts food into energy. A meta-analysis revealed that, in the doses prescribed, CoQ10 lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure by up to 17 mmHg and 10 mmHg, respectively.

Nuts are another good option to protect against heart disease: Full of good fats, they lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and protect against coronary heart disease. Both pine nuts and almonds have been studied particularly for their heart-defending properties.

Vitamin D has been shown to contribute to heart health in many ways. It blocks hormones that are released by the kidney that are involved in raising blood pressure in the body. Vitamin D also lowers the risk of a heart attack and mitigates other factors that can affect the heart such as the calcification of blood vessels and heart tissue scarring.

While the types of foods that we eat play a huge role in promoting or preventing heart disease, we can’t forget the importance of physical activity, which also helps protect against the development of heart disease. So combine good nutrition and physical activity to optimize your health. For more information on wellness tips to prevent heart disease and other chronic conditions, sign up for my free electronic newsletter.

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