WHILE WE continue to focus on diabetes, it is important to remember that one of the ways that diabetes kills is by promoting heart disease. Heart disease is still the number one killer in Jamaica and the world, and a common and troublesome form of heart disease is known as heart failure or congestive cardiac failure (CCF).
The heart is an extraordinary muscular pump that automatically pumps blood around the body through thousands of miles of blood vessels.
In health, the heart does this awesome job with effortless ease. Over your lifetime, your heart will beat 3.5 billion times and will pump over 500 million gallons of blood. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.
CCF describes a disorder where the heart is malfunctioning as a pump, leading to a wide range of problems. Heart failure is usually a chronic disease, meaning that it's a long-term condition that tends to gradually get worse. Often, by the time someone is diagnosed with CCF, the heart may have been losing pumping capacity little by little for quite a while. The earlier it is detected, the more effective treatment usually is.
What causes heart failure?
Heart failure may result from several disorders affecting the valves in the heart or the heart muscle itself. High blood pressure, rheumatic heart disease, damage from a heart attack, lung disease, thyroid disorders, congenital heart disease, and poor circulation to the heart muscle itself are among the common causes.
A special type of heart disorder is called cardiomyopathy - a condition in which the heart muscle becomes flabby and weak with the resulting heart failure responding poorly to the usual heart drugs.
Whatever the cause, the basic problem is: the pumping action of the heart is impaired. CCF differs from a heart attack or cardiac arrest in that the heart doesn't stop beating; it just becomes less and less efficient at pumping blood.
Signs of heart failure
As the heart loses its pumping ability, fluid accumulates in areas like the lungs, liver and legs causing swelling and congestion. Breathlessness, particularly after mild exercise, and difficulty in breathing when you lie down often occurs. Fatigue, chest pain, loss of appetite, mental confusion, and frequent urination, particularly at night, are other common symptoms.
Should you notice any of the above symptoms, you should see your doctor, as any form of heart failure requires the care of a physician. The cause of the CCF needs to determined: Is it the result of high blood pressure, a malfunctioning heart valve, an irregular heart beat or the result of a heart attack? Your doctor will determine the cause and prescribe the treatment. Thankfully, modern medicine has powerful drugs that are very useful in controlling the symptoms of CCF.
Natural support for heart failure
The following suggestions are meant to complement the treatment your doctor recommends.
Diet: Optimal nutrition is vital in both the prevention and treatment of CCF, and poor nutrition may contribute to the development of the problem. Since individuals with CCF have poor appetites and digest food badly, special nutritional interventions may be necessary. I often recommend the cellular nutrition programme, which includes soy protein shakes, which is ideal for such people as it provides easily digested excellent nutrition.
I also suggest having several servings of fruits, vegetables and their juices daily. Restrict your intake of the simple carbohydrates, unhealthy fats and salt (sodium) and use garlic generously instead for seasoning your food. Losing excess body fat is also extremely important as each extra pound is a further burden on the failing heart.
Supplements: Several supplements play an important role in correcting CCF.
Coenzyme QIO (or CoQlO) is of enormous help to people with congestive heart failure. Its substance exists naturally in the mitochondria (energy factories) of every cell in the body and the highest concentrations are to be found in the muscles of the healthy heart.
Researchers have found low levels of CoQ10 in the hearts of people in CCF and notice that they have mitochondrial dysfunction. Supplementing with CoQlO corrects that depletion and greatly improves the heart function. Unfortunately, the cholesterol-lowering drugs, known as the statins, deplete CoQ10 in the heart and may worsen rather than help CCF.
Sadly, many people with CCF are on statins. High dosages of a high-quality formulation (300mg or more per day taken with healthy fats) are needed for optimal benefit in CCF. CoQ10 and another supplement alpha lipoic acid is particularly helpful with cardiomyopathy.
Magnesium is a mineral that is very important for proper heart functioning. In fact, magnesium deficiencies have been found in over 20 per cent of patients with congestive heart failure. Diuretic medications (water tablets) commonly used in CCF tend to deplete the body of minerals like magnesium and potassium.
Unfortunately, conventional medical wisdom tends to replace only potassium. In addition, patients with CCF are prone to irregular heartbeats a condition that magnesium helps to control. At least 250 mg of magnesium aspartate three times daily is usually needed.
Hawthorn: This herb is well known by herbalists as a cardiac tonic. A review of 14 published studies has found that the herb hawthorn is helpful for symptoms of heart failure. When compared to a placebo, hawthorn was found to be superior at improving exercise endurance and strengthening heart muscle contractions. Side effects were infrequent and mild, and in most of the studies, hawthorn was used alongside conventional drugs without any conflict.
L-carnitine is described as an amino acid, but is really a coenzyme with activity similar to CoQlO. It also enhances energy production and thereby improves the exercise tolerance of the heart muscle. Two hundred and fifty milligramme three times a day is an average dose.
The antioxidants A, C, and E in optimal amounts encourage good heart function. For example, a deficiency of vitamin E has been implicated in heart disease and I recommend high dosages - 1,200 IU of natural vitamin E containing mixed tocopherols as tocotrenols. One World Health Organisation study found low levels of vitamin E to be a major risk factor for death from heart disease. The B complex vitamins are also important in nourishing the ailing heart. Selenium, a mineral and powerful antioxidant, may be particularly beneficial to individuals with cardiomyopathy,
Omega 3 fatty acids: The powerful anti-inflammatory, energy-enhancing, circulation-improving benefits of these essential fats make them very useful in CCF. Three to six grams of a high-quality omega 3 fatty acid supplement per day is beneficial in heart failure.
Fresh air and sunshine: Optimal oxygenation is vital in this condition and deep breathing of fresh air is a useful way to improve oxygen intake. Vitamin D is also important to heart health and blood pressure regulation and a daily sunbath is a wonderful physical and mental tonic for one with an ailing heart.
Exercise: Like every other muscle, the heart will benefit from exercise. Consult your doctor for advice on an exercise programme that is appropriate to your heart condition. A special form of exercise using a rebounder (a small trampoline) is helpful in this situation.
Stress management: Chronic stress can worsen the function of the already weakened heart and many CCF sufferers are anxious or frankly depressed. The use of effective stress management techniques is therefore strongly recommended as a part of the treatment plan. A special effort must be made to ensure restful sleep.
You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at firstname.lastname@example.org or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book 'An Ounce of Prevention, Especially for Women' is available locally and on the Internet.