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

For most people, no need for niacin

Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is unlikely to provide any heart-related benefit for most people. Its only possible role is for people who cannot tolerate statins, but other, newer medications would likely offer greater benefits. More »

Legume of the month: Mung beans

Many Asian cuisines use olive-green mung beans in soups, curries, and savory pancakes. Americans may be more familiar with slender, white mung bean sprouts, which are used in Chinese and Thai stir-fries. More »

New insights about inflammation

Inflammation plays a key role in the development of atherosclerosis, the root cause of most heart disease. A blood test for inflammation, known as the hsCRP test, can predict heart disease just as well as LDL cholesterol testing. Two recent studies of different anti-inflammatory medications in people with heart disease are helping researchers zero in on new ways to prevent heart attacks and related problems. But the quest for effective treatments to lower inflammation is still a work in progress. More »

Pacemaker concerns

The latest pacemaker models not only help people stay active later in life, they’re also more compatible with today’s technology. But people with pacemakers should take precautions when lifting weights and in certain airport security situations. (Locked) More »

Unscrambling the message on eggs

Advice about eating eggs has changed over the years, ranging from a limit of three to seven per week. Although eggs are high in cholesterol, dietary cholesterol does not affect blood cholesterol very much in most people. Saturated fat from meat and full-fat dairy products likely plays a bigger role. However, some people are more affected by dietary cholesterol than others. People with high blood cholesterol, diabetes, or heart disease should eat no more than two eggs a week. Focusing on overall diet quality, rather than one particular food, is also important. (Locked) More »

Fermented foods: Favorable for heart health?

Fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut contain naturally occurring beneficial bacteria known as probiotics. Limited but promising evidence suggests that these foods have modest heart-related benefits. These include small improvements in blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and blood sugar, as well as weight loss. But people who include fermented foods in their diets should pay attention to what else the foods contain that might be less desirable for heart health. For example, some yogurts contain lots of sugar, and sauerkraut and pickles are high in sodium. (Locked) More »

Legume of the month: Peanuts

Peanuts (which are technically legumes and not nuts) are rich in healthy unsaturated fats, fiber, and several vitamins and minerals. People who eat them regularly tend to have lower rates of heart disease. More »

To elevate your exercise routine, head outside

Walking or hiking outdoors in nature may offer some heart-related benefits beyond what people experience from an indoor workout. Beautiful vistas may encourage people to walk farther, and trails that include hills also help the heart work harder, which boosts fitness. Using walking poles adds an upper-body workout to the walk, in addition to increasing the number of calories burned. Natural settings tend to be quieter, cooler, and have better air quality than urban areas. Finally, spending time in green spaces—nature preserves, woodlands, and even urban parks—may ease people’s stress levels. (Locked) More »