Under new NHS guidelines as many as one in four adults could now end up being prescribed statins. However, some doctors are concerned it could expose thousands of us to harmful side effects, while making only a small difference to the health of our hearts. So how can we make sure we do the best for our hearts, without resorting to medication? We look to the experts for advice:
Regular physical activity can halve your risk of heart disease says the British Heart Foundation. ‘And aerobic exercise – anything that gets your heart pumping but still allows you to talk – is the type to go for,’ says Dawn Matthewman, personal trainer at Dan Roberts Elite. Why? ‘Challenging your heart to work harder makes it become stronger,’ she explains. ‘Brisk walking, jogging, cycling and swimming are good options.’ Go for 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week. If you’re unused to exercising always check first with your doctor.
Say no to ‘sat fats’
High levels of saturated fats in the diet raises LDL (bad) cholesterol in our blood and can cause narrowing of our arteries.
Experts suggest that checking our intake of omega 3 fats from oily fish could help maintain a healthy heart. “Omega 3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect which can help to maintain a healthy heart and they also raise levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and reduce blood clotting,” says Robert Hobson, Head of Nutrition for Healthspan.
Cut out habits such as smoking to reduce exposure to free radicals, which attack blood fats and lead to atherosclerosis. Antioxidants, such as vitamin C and vitamin E help to ‘mop up’ free radicals preventing them from damaging cells.
Keep weight in check
The risk of heart disease increases as body mass index (BMI) rises above 27, and especially as it goes above 30. “Apple shaped people, who are larger around the waist, have a higher risk of heart disease than people who are pear shaped, carrying fat mostly below the waist,” says Dr Trisha Macnair. Find out your BMI (divide weight in kilograms by height in metres squared) and measure your waist. If you are apple shaped (a waistline of 40 inches or more for men, 35 inches or more for women) it really is time for action. If overweight, aim for gradual weight loss through a combination of healthy eating and exercise.
Vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid have been shown to lower homocysteine levels, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Simply taking 400mcg of folic acid per day has been shown to be extremely effective.
Raise a glass
Research has shown that moderate amounts of alcohol may protect against heart disease. Men should have no more than 1-2 drinks per day while women should limit themselves to one (one drink is defined as half a pint of beer, a glass of wine or a measure of spirits).
Having a positive attitude and not worrying about things can have as big an impact on your life as not smoking or taking regular exercise. Researchers from University College London found that being happy helps to lower levels of the stress induced hormone cortisol excess levels of which can increase blood pressure, exacerbate arrhythmias and increase the accumulation of abdominal fat that enhances the risk of heart disease. In fact research from the American Psychological Association found that being happy can add up to eight years to your life.
We vary hugely in the amount of sleep individuals need, but according to the University of Warwick, people who sleep for more than eight hours or less than five hours a night, doubled their risk of heart disease. A lack of sleep was also linked to increased weight gain and higher blood pressure. If you have difficulties sleeping cut out all caffeine after 6pm and avoid large meals late at night. A warm bath and hot milky drink will help you relax but alcohol will interfere with normal sleep rhythms. You could also try lavender oil in a burner or on your pillow.
Fall in love
Living alone doubles your risk of heart disease, whilst being in a stable happy relationship helps you live longer and protects you from depression and anxiety. One factor may be that couples are likely to have more sex than their single peers and sex is thought to combat stress which can increase your risks of heart disease.
Already on statins?
Like all drugs, statins have the potential to cause side effects. “1-5% of people taking a statin develop muscle problems such as pain, inflammation and weakness,” explains GP and medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer. This is because of the way in which statins work in the body. “As well as switching off cholesterol production in the liver, statins also switch off production of co-enzyme Q10 and this is believed to cause the muscle problems associated with statin drugs. In fact, the original patent filed for the first statin drug suggested that it should be given together with Co-Q10 supplements to prevent muscle side effects,” concludes Dr Brewer.Last modified: June 10, 2021