Heart Health

The heart beats about 2.5 billion times over the average lifetime, pushing millions of gallons of blood to every part of the body. This steady flow carries with it oxygen, fuel, hormones, other compounds, and a host of essential cells. It also whisks away the waste products of metabolism. When the heart stops, essential functions fail, some almost instantly.

Given the heart's never-ending workload, it's a wonder it performs so well, for so long, for so many people. But it can also fail, brought down by a poor diet and lack of exercise, smoking, infection, unlucky genes, and more.

A key problem is atherosclerosis. This is the accumulation of pockets of cholesterol-rich gunk inside the arteries. These pockets, called plaque, can limit blood flow through arteries that nourish the heart — the coronary arteries — and other arteries throughout the body. When a plaque breaks apart, it can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Although many people develop some form of cardiovascular disease (a catch-all term for all of the diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels) as they get older, it isn't inevitable. A healthy lifestyle, especially when started at a young age, goes a long way to preventing cardiovascular disease. Lifestyle changes and medications can nip heart-harming trends, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, in the bud before they cause damage. And a variety of medications, operations, and devices can help support the heart if damage occurs.

Heart Health Articles

A heart-healthy diet doesn’t need to be low in fat

Over the past decade, nutrition experts have shifted away from recommending a low-fat diet to focusing more on an overall healthy dietary pattern. This eating style, which includes lots of plant-based foods, is naturally low in saturated fats. Found mainly in meat and dairy products, saturated fat can boost levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, a key contributor to heart disease. Cutting back on all types of fat does not necessarily translate into a diet that lowers cardiovascular risk. The plant-centric Mediterranean eating pattern, which is rich in healthy unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, and olives, has the best evidence for lowering heart disease risk. More »

Air pollution: An invisible threat to your heart

Exposure to microscopic particles called PM2.5 in air pollution may increase a person’s risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart rhythm disorders. The tiny particles pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, triggering inflammation and other cell-damaging processes. Air pollution comes mainly from coal-fired power plants, industrial factories, and motor vehicles. To limit exposure, people should try to avoid exercising outdoors near busy roads or industrial areas. (Locked) More »

Can certain foods or drinks affect your heart’s rhythm?

Certain foods and drinks can affect the heart’s rhythm, but only under unusual circumstances. Possible culprits include grapefruit, energy drinks, licorice, and tonic water. But for the most part, the risks are relevant only for people with a rare inherited condition called long QT syndrome, which can cause shortness of breath, unexplained fainting, and sometimes sudden death. (Locked) More »

Grain of the month: Brown rice

Compared with white rice, brown rice contains much higher amounts of fiber, certain B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and iron. Research suggests that swapping white rice for brown rice may improve blood sugar levels and help with weight control. More »

Hot baths and saunas: Beneficial for your heart?

Taking baths or saunas on a regular basis may help lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. Evidence for these benefits comes from studies in Japan (where hot tub use in ingrained in the culture) and Finland, where saunas are popular. Both habits seem to be safe for people with stable heart disease and even mild heart failure. But people with unstable chest pain (angina), poorly controlled high blood pressure, or other serious heart issues should avoid them. Because high temperatures can lower blood pressure, older people with low blood pressure should be extra careful in hot baths and saunas. More »

Opioids after heart surgery: A cautionary tale

In one study, about 10% of people prescribed opioid pain relievers following heart surgery kept taking them for three to six months—a time point when no one should still be experiencing pain from the operation. More »

Telemedicine: A good fit for cardiovascular care?

Virtual doctor visits—when a person talks to a physician on a video call instead of during an in-person office exam—became popular early on in the coronavirus pandemic. The technology may be a good option for managing cardiovascular disease even after in-person visits become more common again. In the future, remote monitoring of health data using Wi-Fi–enabled devices that measure a person’s weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, pulse, and heart rhythm could further advance telehealth’s promise. (Locked) More »

Tofu may help your heart

Tofu may be good for the heart. A study published in March 2020 in the journal Circulation found that people who ate at least one weekly serving of tofu or another food containing isoflavones (a compound found in soybeans and other legumes) had an 18% lower risk of developing heart and blood vessel disease than people who ate these foods less than once a month. These foods appeared particularly beneficial to premenopausal women and women who had gone through menopause but weren’t using hormone replacement therapy. Experts recommend substituting these foods for less healthy protein options such as red or processed meats. (Locked) More »