So, for this Q&A we asked Finn one simple, seasonal ‘Q’ - what can be done to improve our heart health? His ‘A’ is as captivating as ever...
I’m sure at some time or another you’ve found yourself talking to somebody thinking you just aren’t making a connection, and you may be aware of the fact that they’re not “mirroring your posture” (i.e. you’ve got your arms folded while they’ve got their hands in their pockets). But, if you were to track your heart rates you would also likely find a difference. Researchers have recently discovered that our capacity for empathy is reflected in (or perhaps driven by) a shared heart rate. In the ‘right’ company our bodies have the ability to slow down or quicken our heart rate to mimic the pulse of our companion. Our heart tracks all the subtle breadth of our emotions like no other organ in our body, the extremes that we are all too aware of have entered the popular lexicon “His heart was broken”, “Her heart was in her mouth” - the list goes on!
This emotional influence on the heart’s behaviour, coupled with its INTENSE workload (that constant beat that we treat as the primary sign of life) means that our heart needs special attention as part of our self-care model. If your heart’s in need of a special hug, like most are, read on to get a few key tips so you don’t miss a beat!
First things first: food
Let’s keep it really simple here - if it looks like blood in any way, like it’s purple, it’s crimson, it’s a neon cerise, then it’s likely to be good for your heart. Strange really, nature makes it so easy for us to eat the right things - it’s called the Doctrine of Signatures, and yes even though it sounds like complete hocus pocus, science continues to play catch up with its intuitive wisdom. Let’s take just one food, the pomegranate for example (right smack bang in season in mid-January, so you can pick an organic one off our shelves for less than €1.50), which has been discovered to be rich in two crucial pillars of heart health: nitrate and ellagic acid...
The Numero Uno - Nitrate! N02, Nitric oxide is what your body produces when it feels the need to stuff more blood into the blood vessels, when in an oxygen deprived state for whatever reason. It basically relaxes the blood vessel walls to allow more space for blood to flow. The easiest option for our body to manufacture this is by using the nitrate we get in many fruit & veg, but the delightfully tart pomegranate is especially rich in nitrate (along with beetroot, rocket and a host of others). Other “vasodilators” (as they’re known) would include magnesium, vitamin E (which also helps protect cholesterol from oxidising and doing damage to our arteries) and niacin (B3).
Ellagic Acid, not to be outdone by his boisterous brother, has had serious attention from serious folk in nice clean white coats too (they must hate working with beetroot) who have looked at its undeniably serious links to heart health. Ellagic acid seems to exert a number of physiological effects on our body that all trend towards better heart health, crucially they get in there and arrest some proinflammatory little chaps that play havoc with heart muscle cells.
So there you have it - pomegranates… BOOM!
Now when we say doing something about overall stress levels is important for everybody - we’re not kidding around, as some of us have got so good at coping that we don’t even notice how stressed we are!! And in the context of heart health their relevance cannot be overemphasized.
Cortisol, one of the primary stress hormones, is just about the most evil of necessary evils in the context of modern living, and while it’s ancestral purpose was beautifully simple: to drag us out from our den at sunrise - its effects are manifestly less beneficial when it spikes after that dinner with your mother in law at 9pm ;) Not only do you get a less than adequate sleep, but it also has a bunch of long-term effects that are none too good for the heart.
There’re a bunch of herbs called the ‘adaptogens’ that are just primed for helping attenuate our hormonal stress response, this is a whole other topic though so go look them up in the meantime - check out rhodiola and siberian ginseng for starters. Over here we’re going to stick to the heart health programme.
While we’re on the topic of herbs though, there are two wicked ones deserving of a mention in here, as both have demonstrated effects in helping normalise blood pressure in a gentle but effective manner. Say hello to our bosom buddies, hawthorn and cayenne pepper. Both of these herbs have demonstrated proven effects in supporting cardiac health, and without wanting to overstate its relevance, cayenne could be usefully taken by… oh, just about everybody! Try sticking a pinch (just a small one to start!) into a glass of warm water in the mornings with a tablespoon of cider vinegar (work up to this dose over a week). Those of you who suffer agonisingly cold fingers and toes should be taking note, it’s the best way to bring feeling back to those mummified digits.
Hawthorne has such an affinity for heart health. It’s one we recommend after any insult that hits the heart, be it emotional or physical in nature. Available as a tea, tincture or tablet (combined with garlic), we’ve had such amazing testimonial feedback from folk who used this herb for instance after bereavement that it’s top of our list of recommendations to protect the emotional centre that is our heart.
Vitamin K can’t be ignored in this review as it’s getting so much attention especially in recent years outside of its original bone health supporting remit. Its dual role is still aligned to one specific function: it drives calcium into bone, ensuring that it doesn’t get left in soft tissue and smooth muscle deposits, where it can cause hardening of the arteries and long term reduction in oxygenation of tissues, putting more pressure on that heart muscle. K has been especially strongly linked to the longevity population studies in Japan and has been singled out as a key “anti-ageing” nutrient.
CoQ10 - this may just be the star of the show when it comes to heart health, so congratulations to those of you who have stuck it out this far into the blog, this is probably our top tip for taking care of your ticker. CoQ10 is possibly the most researched of all heart health supplements, having two key functions that give it top billing. First off, its as a crucial part of the electron transport chain, as it sits in what is called the mitochondrial membrane and helps transport fats into the mitochondria to produce ATP. Put simply if the mitochondria is the engine in our cells, then fats are the fuel, and CoQ10 is like the fuel pump… ATP being the end result that helps us get away from the lights. Amazingly CoQ10 isn’t done helping just there, as it also functions as a fat soluble antioxidant (just like vitamin E) and protects oxidised fats and cholesterol from damaging our blood vessel walls.
Phew, that’s enough science, let’s finish with a bit of magic. So we’ve always thought of our heart as a pump right? It’s what we’re taught at school and kind of the foundation “modern” cardiac care. Well what if… just WHAT IF… the heart was no more a pump than it was a garden mower, and that its job was not to forcefully expel blood around our body, but instead to pool and enrich it by spiralling it in a vortex.
The theory has cropped up recently with some strong basis in science, namely the quest to explain the unique form that the heart takes. The “chestahedron” is a geometric seven-sided form which is precisely represented by our heart’s structure (another amazing example of maths in nature). When you run water through a chestahedron it has the ability to spiral water in a vortex form, which energises and alters the structure of the water, in the same motion that occurs in a mountain stream.
Thus the theory asserts that our heart’s function is as a blood spiraling device, a powerful blood enrichment organ, which, when coupled with its role in our emotions makes us realise the importance of maintaining and enhancing the vital force that this organ generates to support our wellbeing.