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Healthy lifestyle choices help, even if heart problems run in your family

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If you have a strong family history of heart problems, don’t despair. According to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, you can still overcome a bad roll of the genetic dice. Data from over 55,600 people showed that those with a high genetic risk of heart attack halved their chance of actually experiencing one if they followed a healthy diet and lifestyle compared with those who made less favourable choices.

This is not too surprising, given that almost one in three heart attacks are linked with eating an unhealthy diet, and an unhealthy lifestyle accounts for many of the others. Most people know the usual advice but there are some other less known ways to help maximise your chance of a long and healthy lifespan, too.   

Favour fish  

Fish is often thought of as brain food, but it has beneficial effects for the heart too. The long-chain omega 3 fish oils, DHA and EPA, have a protective effect against abnormal heart rhythms, especially in heart muscle receiving a poor blood supply. If you don’t like eating fish, omega 3 supplements are a good alternative.

Go For garlic

Garlic reduces cholesterol production in the liver and discourages hardening and furring up of the arteries. Garlic also dilates arteries to lower blood pressure and improve the circulation. Data from 20 clinical trials involving almost a thousand people shows that garlic supplements reduce blood pressure. Aged garlic extracts (eg. black garlic) can even reduce the level of soft plaque present in coronary arteries in people with metabolic syndrome who are at high risk of heart disease.

Consider co-enzyme Q10

Co-enzyme Q10 is needed for energy production in cells – especially heart muscle cells that are constantly contracting. Statin drugs lower cholesterol levels and also halve circulating levels of co-enzyme Q10 within 4 weeks. Taking co-enzyme Q10 supplements helps to maintain blood levels of this important muscle nutrient without affecting the cholesterol-lowering action of the statin. 

Plump for plant Sterols

Plant sterols have a similar chemical structure to animal cholesterol and reduce the absorption of dietary cholesterol.  A sterol rich diet can lower levels of harmful LDL-cholesterol by up to 15 per cent to significantly reduce the risk of heart problems. The benefits are even greater for people with type 2 diabetes, in whom LDL-cholesterol levels have been lowered by over 26 per cent. Plant sterols can be used together with a statin to further reduce cholesterol levels and is more effective than doubling the statin dose.

Don’t Forget Vitamin D3

Vitamin D also helps to regulate calcium and improves blood pressure control. Research from 19 studies, involving almost 66,000 people showed that people with the lowest vitamin D levels were 52 per cent more likely to have heart problems than those with the highest blood levels. 

Sarah Brewer graduated as a doctor from Cambridge University. Having worked in hospitals and general practice, she gained a Master's degree in Nutritional Medicine from the University of Surrey. She is the author of over 60 popular health books and writes widely on all aspects of health including complementary medicine. More from this expert.

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Nutrition Expert sources the latest information and advice from a range of qualified doctors, nutritionists and coaches. We always endeavour to have the most up to date information possible and publish new content weekly. However with the constant research in this field sometimes some of our older articles can become out of date. If you see anything that you believe needs to be updated please let us know via our Contact Us page