Taking the Holistic Approach to Healing from Heart Disease or Stroke

olive oil and vegetablesSurviving a heart attack or stroke can sometimes leave you feeling like the future is uncertain. The good news is that the power to heal your heart is in your hands.The way you choose to live your new life can help speed healing and reduce your risk of another cardiovascular event.

We at myWholeLife want to support you on your healing journey with this simple, step-by-step guide to recovery.

 Step 1: Take Your Plate for a Cruise on the Mediterranean

Eating well doesn’t mean existing on rabbit food; instead, reconnect with a flavourful palette of whole foods. Following a Mediterranean style diet (which allows for up to 40% of your calorie intake to come from fat) can greatly reduce your risk of having a repeat heart attack or stroke. Indulge in these powerful heart-healing staples of the Mediterranean diet.

Olive oil

Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which help to lower total cholesterol levels as well as the unhealthy LDL-cholesterol levels. The MUFAs in olive oil also help to normalize blood clotting and regulate blood sugar levels, making them especially beneficial for diabetics who have suffered a heart attack or stroke.[i] For optimum benefit, buy only extra virgin olive oil that is stored in a dark bottle, store it in a cool, dark place and don’t overheat it.

Omega-3s

Omega-3 fats help lower triglycerides and blood pressure, reduce blood clotting and support a healthier heart.[ii][iii] Try consuming cold water fish such as mackerel, salmon, herring and sardines and aim for 2-3 servings per week (due to the high mercury levels, it’s best not to consume more than that). Walnuts, ground flaxseeds and pumpkin and hemp seeds are also great sources of omega-3s.

Vegetables and Fruits

The antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre in fruits and vegetables promote a healthy heart by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and keeping arteries healthy.[iv] Try to consume a wide variety of colourful fruits and vegetables (fresh and frozen are both good). Aim for 7-10 half cup servings per day.[v]

Fibre-rich Foods

Harvard researchers have found that consuming fibre rich foods such as beans, lentils, psyllium and whole grains (like oatmeal, brown rice & quinoa), reduces the risk for repeat heart attack and death after an initial heart attack. Fiber (especially when combined with antioxidants) also helps to unclog your arteries and is particularly beneficial for ischemic stroke victims. Try to consume between 21-25 g of fibre daily if you are a female and 30-38 g if you are a male.  

Garlic

Garlic is a heart healthy superstar. Consuming it regularly may help to improve the health of your arteries, lower blood pressure and thin out the blood (thereby reducing the risk for blood clots).[vi] For best results, consume garlic raw by crushing or mincing and add it to dips, sauces and salads.

Step 2: Stress Less

Strong, negative feelings can feel overwhelming after a heart attack or stroke; talk about these feelings with a healthcare practitioner and loved ones. Getting them out in the open will help to relieve their burden. Know that your future is in your hands – taking a positive attitude towards recovery and treatment will help you become a healthier, more vital you. Make sleep a priority as it is when your body does most of its healing. Finally, try stress management techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, or even a hot bath. Reducing stress is vital for quick recovery and a healthier life![vii]

Step 3: Move Your Body

It is important to resume physical activity, cautiously, in recovery. Talk to your doctor about what sorts of activities are okay for you and how to progress. Focus on gentle, cardiovascular exercise such as daily walking; you can start with just 5 minutes, a few times per day. You may find yourself breathing faster, sweating more and feeling fatigued but this is normal after a cardiac event. Pace yourself and respect your limitations as you heal. It is not normal to feel any kind of pain, to sweat excessively, to feel light headed or nauseous or to feel cramping in your arms and legs — pushing yourself too hard can actually increase your risk for a repeat event, so take it slow.[viii] Finally, avoid heavy lifting or pushing unless approved by your physician.[ix]

Step 4: Be Aware of Interactions

Sometimes, even the healthiest of foods should not be combined with heart and stroke medications. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which foods interact with your current medications. For instance, omega 3 fatty acids thin the blood so know your limit if you are on blood thinners. Grapefruit and pomegranates are known to alter how cholesterol medications work and the high level of vitamin K contained in leafy green veggies can pose a risk for you if you’re taking blood thinners (anticoagulants).[x] Finally, too much alcohol can be dangerous because it can compromise the ability of your liver to properly filter heart attack and stroke medications.[xi]  


References:

[i] http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/food-and-nutrition/faq-20058439
[ii], [v] http://www.thh.nhs.uk/documents/_Departments/Cardiac_rehab/INFO-FOR-PATIENTS-FOLLOWING-HEART-ATTACK.pdf
[iii] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/omega-3/art-20045614
[iv] http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=714595
[vi] https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/garlic
[vii] http://www.texasheartinstitute.org/HIC/Topics/cond/recovery.cfm
[viii] http://www.uwhealth.org/healthfacts/cardiology/6090.html
[ix] http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/disorders/cad/mi_recovery.aspx
[x], [xi] http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Medication-Interactions-Food-Supplements-and-Other-Drugs_UCM_437377_Article.jsp