Photo Credit: Courtesy of Three Rivers Press
By the author of Prevent a Second Heart Attack: 8 Foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease (Three Rivers Press, Feb. 1, 2011)
1. Fill (and take) your prescription medications! According to recent scientific research, when compared to those people who fill and take all of their prescriptions, patients who fail to fill any of their prescriptions have an 80 percent greater chance of dying in the year following their heart attack. Patients who fill only some of their prescriptions have a 40 percent increase in risk of death in the year following their heart attack. The takeaway message? Filling and taking your prescription medications is the first step in preventing a second heart attack.
2. Beware the plaque-building foods. You must learn to avoid foods that make up the “Western” style of eating—red meat, cream, butter, eggs, and cheese. These are the artery-clogging ones that likely got you into trouble in the first place. Foods that contain any or all of the three main dietary evils—saturated fat, trans fat, dietary cholesterol—are dietary land mines that fuel plaque buildup and substantially raise your risk of a second heart attack.
3. Add in the foods that heal the arteries. Researchers have long known that the gold standard for cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment is the superbly heart-healthy, plaque-reversing Mediterranean diet. Here, the foods that comprise it: extra virgin olive oil as your main fat, dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, fresh fruits such as figs, whole grains such as oatmeal, legumes such as lentils, fish such as salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds, and red wine with meals. As a special bonus, a daily treat of sinfully rich and ultra satisfying deep, dark chocolate has also been proven to help treat and reverse heart disease.
4. Walk often, walk far. A heart disease reversal plan would not be complete without a daily exercise regimen. Walking is one of the simplest, safest and least expensive heart-health-promoting strategies. Walking longer distances frequently has been proven to be the best exercise prescription for heart patients. It’s the most powerful action you can take to tame your risk factors and decrease your odds of a second attack. As Hippocrates so wisely counseled centuries ago, “Walking is man’s best medicine.”
5. Take three dietary supplements. Not all supplements are created equally when it comes to treating and reversing plaque build-up. A few stand out among the crowd and should be in every heart attack survivor’s medicine chest:
- Niacin. Niacin, the B vitamin available over the counter or as a prescription drug, has been proven to possess the greatest capacity to increase your blood level of “good” cholesterol, HDL—compared to other drugs. With over thirty years of research supporting its safety and effectiveness, you and your doctor should discuss adding this vitamin as a second agent on top of your statin to boost your fight against plaque.
- Lovaza. Lovaza is the brand name of the prescription fish oil supplement guaranteed by the Food and Drug Administration to be a safe, high-quality fish oil, free of contaminants and impurities, and to contain exactly what’s on the label. One Lovaza capsule provides approximately 900 milligrams of mixed EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. (Note: prescription fish oil supplements are preferable to over-the-counter supplements, which can vary in quality, purity, and dosage.) All heart patients should be taking fish oil—under their doctor’s supervision.
- Vitamin D. Inadequate dietary intake of this essential nutrient results in vitamin D deficiency, and studies are accumulating suggesting that a low vitamin D status negatively affects cardiovascular health. Despite the preliminary nature of the research, at this time it appears prudent advice to test your vitamin D level and to consider taking a daily supplement (under your doctor’s supervision) with 1,000-2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D, to boost your level, if it is indeed low.