How healthy is your heart? February is Heart Health Month

Published Jan 28, 2018 at 9:00am

February is heart health month but every month it should be a goal to aim for a healthy heart. 

Your heart has four valves to control the flow of blood within the chambers of the heart, as well as to the rest of the body. But if one of those valves stops working properly, the health complications can become life threatening. Heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) and other conditions can result from valve disease. 

So how do you know if your heart valves are working? UCLA Health cardiologist Dr. Ravi Dave says to know the symptoms of valve disease and follow through with your doctor appointments and your physician’s recommendations on medications and other treatments. 

The most common valve problems are aortic valve stenosis and aortic valve regurgitation, as well as mitral valve stenosis and mitral valve regurgitation. Stenosis refers to a stiffening of the valves to the point where they cannot open all the way. This makes the heart work harder to pump enough blood through those effected valves.

Regurgitation means the valves won’t close properly, so the blood that is pumped through the valve may leak backwards, raising the risk of blood clot formation. 

There are unfortunately no medications to cure valve disease, though some drugs may help reduce symptoms and complications. Dr. Dave says that the most common symptoms are shortness of breath, chest pains or faint feeling or even passing out, heart palpitations, weight gain, and swelling of ankles as well. 

Not only do we worry about the valves of the heart but also the arteries. Carotid artery disease is another heart condition that effects many people. Taking care of the carotid artery also reduces the risk of a stroke. When your doctor listens you the side of your neck with a stethoscope they are listening for a whooshing noise – something called a bruit.

This noise is the carotid artery supplying the brain with blood may be clogging up. The risk of stroke increases due to the amount of blood to the brain being interrupted.

Clogging of one or both carotid arteries (carotid artery stenosis) is the cause of about 8 to 15 percent of the most common type of stroke, called an ischemic stroke. 

Stenosis is generally a silent process, and the first symptom experienced may be a stroke or temporary stroke-like symptoms that quickly go away, known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Signs and symptoms of a stroke or TIA come on suddenly and need immediate treatment: 

• Numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of the face or body.

• Difficulty speaking or trouble understanding others.

• Trouble with blurred, decreased or double vision.

• Dizziness, trouble walking, or loss of balance or coordination.

• A sudden, severe “thunderclap” headache.

A good way to keep a healthy heart is by eating healthy, exercising, and getting all the proper nutrients. Several nutrients are especially important for older adults. These include folate, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. 

• Folic acid is a form of the water-soluble vitamin B9. Folate is a naturally occurring form of the vitamin which is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and a deficiency has been linked with cognitive issues.

It occurs naturally in dark leafy green vegetables, yellow/orange fruits and vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, and fortified cereals and grains. 

• Higher levels of vitamin D are associated with a lower risk of falls, some cancers, heart disease, and diabetes. Good sources of vitamin D include direct sunlight, dairy, and fish. 

• Diets rich in calcium are associated with lower blood pressure and reduced risk of osteoporosis and fractures. The mineral is found in milk, yogurt, and other dairy products, fortified cereals and juices, dark leafy green vegetables, almonds, and canned fish. 

• Magnesium helps to regulate blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and may help reduce the risk of heart disease. It’s found in dark leafy green vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. 

• Zinc is thought to enhance immune function and is needed for wound healing. It also may help us maintain our sense of taste, which can become less sharp as we age, further reducing our appetite.

Foods rich in zinc include fortified cereals and whole grains, red meat, and seafood. 

Nothing tastes more nourishing than a bowl of hot soup on a winter day. Here is a healthy and truly delicious soup to get plenty of nutrients for a healthy heart.

White Beanand Spinach Soup: 

1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced 

1 medium carrot, halved and thinly sliced 

1/2 medium onion, diced finely 

4 1/2 cups vegetable stock 

1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes (fresh may be substituted) 

1 (14 oz.) can cannellini beans (any white bean may be substituted) 

1/2 tsp. rosemary 

1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning 

Dash freshly ground pepper 

Dash red pepper flakes (optional) 

4 oz. small whole-wheat pasta shells 

4 cups baby spinach leaves 

4 tsp. shredded Parmesan cheese

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté garlic, carrot and onion until carrots are soft, about 5 minutes. Add stock, tomatoes, beans, rosemary, Italian seasoning and pepper (including red pepper flakes, if using) to skillet.

Bring to a boil. Add shells and cook 14 minutes. If soup is to think simply add more stock.

Stir in spinach and continue cooking until wilted. Serve in soup bowls and sprinkle Parmesan on top.