Reducing COVID-19 Risk for Cardiovascular Disease
Future of COVID-19, Why Cardiovascular Disease is a Risk Factor, and Ways to Reduce Your Risk
A Harvard study that was released on April 14, 2020 took into consideration immunity and seasonality. They used patterns of circulation of other viruses that are similar in nature to project what is possible. And, it is possible that re-current winter or seasonal outbreaks of COVID-19 will likely occur after this initial pandemic wave. How and what that looks like varies depending on social distancing, how long immunity lasts after initial exposure, cross-immunity with other variants of a similar strain of virus, and other transmission dynamics.
This is disheartening news. However, we can’t isolate forever. Just as the flu circulates every year, this could be our new normal. We want to visit with friends, kids and grandkids, neighbors, and loved ones. So, those with cardiovascular disease or other underlying risk factors, need to take proactive action to mediate their conditions now.
CARDIOVASCULAR DISASE INCREASE RISK
The heart needs oxygen to keep beating. But, did you know that if you have cardiovascular disease or risk factors for it, you may very well have increased receptors in your heart’s blood vessels for the COVID-19 virus? A recent study found that this may be part of the predisposing factor. And, doctors have certainly seen electrocardiogram changes and cardiac enzymes going up in COVID-19 patients.
Most of the ACE2 receptors in the body are located in the small intestine. We already know that every time someone eats, it is an inflammatory event because the immune system is activated. The immune system in the gut evaluates every morsel of food eaten to see if it is friend or foe. However, these ACE2 receptors are found throughout the body as well. Researchers have found that inside the lining of the blood vessels that supply blood, and thus oxygen, to the heart of patients with basic heart failure, have increased ACE2 receptors. These means they have more binding sites for the virus to attach. This is why someone with cardiovascular disease is at higher risk. The virus binds to that site, enters the cells, hijacks it and replicates.
This also explains why people with asthma or lung or kidney issues are at a greater risk for COVID-19 because there are a concentration of ACE2 receptors in those areas as well.
So what if you are someone at risk, or headed there?
What do you do if this continues?
We have to take a proactive stance with our health by fortifying our baseline health status. Simply: we have to eat better, move more, sleep and stress less. These are foundational to our overall health. If you want to reduce your risk in the future, changes to support your body must happen now.
A 2010 study indicates adhering to the recommendations of daily consumption of vegetables, fruit, fish and fatty acids can reduce the burden on cardiovascular disease by 20-30% and prolong life an additional year.
What could you do with an additional year of your life?
And, addressing bacterial imbalances in the gut further decreases risk because the majority of ACE2 receptors are located in the small intestine.
A 2017 study showed the modern western diet including high consumption of red meat, which typically has a poor omega-3-6-9 profile, processed and packaged foods, refined grains, sugar and saturated fat increases metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome puts one at risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Metabolic syndrome is where you have three or more of these risk factors: a large waistline (40+ men, 35+ women), high triglycerides, low HDL, increased blood pressure, and have increased blood sugar. In fact, 85 percent of Type 2 diabetics have metabolic syndrome putting them at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease too.
Our western diet increases inflammation, c-reactive proteins (a measure of inflammation), glucose intolerance, and results in obesity, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
But, weight loss results in improved cardiovascular risk factors. So what can you do?
First, stop eating sugar. Sugar contributes to inflammation, increased blood sugar, obesity and even suppresses your immune system up to five hours after consumption.
“Eat less sugar and eat more healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, seeds and nuts,” according to Dr. David Perlmutter. They key is choosing healthy fats to support cardiovascular health, not processed, refined and hydrogenated fats.
Fish contains essential fatty acids. Healthy oils contain mono and poly unsaturated fats that have anti-inflammatory effects, reduce blood pressure and overall cardio metabolic risk factors.
We know food is medicine. Choosing whole, colorful fruits and vegetables increases antioxidants, micronutrients, fiber consumption, potassium, magnesium, folic acid, B vitamins, Vitamin C and so much more.
You have control over what you choose to eat and right now, every bite matters. Every bite moves you closer to health or closer to disease. It is life and death.
What do you want to be around for in the future? Focus on your why and then make healthier choices. This will support your immune system and cardiovascular system.
Regular exercise is proven to:
- improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression
- improve bone health
- improve cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness
- improve gut function
- increase insulin sensitivity and can even reverse pre-diabetes and Type 2
- lower blood pressure
- reduce coronary heart disease, stroke, metabolic syndrome
- contribute to overall quality of life
The Center for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise per week. There are SO many benefits of regular exercise yet 80% of the population doesn’t get enough. What about you?
In my coaching practice, I find that clients have to find something they enjoy or they won’t do it!
What type of movement do you enjoy? Even just going for a walk can clear your mind and refresh you and set you on a path to wellness.
Do you prefer to be with other people? Try an online class or call a friend while walking. What can you do to make it enjoyable?
Are you someone who feels selfish for spending that time on yourself? Maybe help a neighbor and walk their dog.
And, the more you exercise, the more you will see and feel the benefits. Then, you’ll want to move more. Until you get there, find a way to make it enjoyable and find your motivation. The benefits of exercise are under estimated, are far reaching and are well worth the effort.
There are hundreds of studies that link poor sleep duration and quality to abdominal obesity, poor blood sugar/insulin sensitivity, increased hunger, poor cholesterol levels, increased blood pressure, poor concentration/memory, increased inflammatory markers, poor immune response, and poor sleep increases cardio metabolic risk.
Sometimes underlying health problems, or the medications taken for them, can disrupt sleep. This can be frustrating. You want to sleep well but you can’t. Talk to your doctor about it. Sometimes your doctor can adjust your meds or adjust when you take them so they don’t disturb sleep as much. But, adding another medication on top of your current regimen to help you sleep may not be the answer. Often, if you’ve had a poor diet for a long time, the beneficial gut microbes that produce melatonin, serotonin and dopamine may not be flourishing. As you begin to eat more veggies and plant fiber, these beneficial microbes will flourish and make more vital neurotransmitters. Consider the whole picture.
Another thing that affects sleep is hormones. If you’ve been under even low levels of stress for long periods of time, your cortisol may be peaking at the wrong time of day – or I should say night. This can interfere with normal sleeping patterns. All hormones are interconnected as well. So, if you’ve not been managing stress well, or are showing signs of other hormone disruptions, it may be draining your whole hormone cascade. It might be a good idea to address the stress first.
Other sleep hygiene tips include:
- Go to bed at a consistent time, get up at the same time each day.
- Make sure you bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing and comfortable temperature.
- Remove electronic devices and don’t use close to bedtime.
- Avoid eating within 2-3 hours of bedtime, avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Get some exercise – this often improves sleep.
Stress can have a profound a lasting effect on the respiratory system, heart and blood vessels. Strong emotions, psychological stressors can exacerbate breathing problems. They can trigger stress hormones that send chemical messages to the heart and blood vessels. It tells them to dilate, increase heart rate by pumping harder. Chronic stress, even low level stress, can increase risk for hypertension, heart attack and stroke, contributes to inflammation in the circulatory system and affects cholesterol levels. It interferes with every bodily system: endocrine, gastrointestinal, esophagus, stomach, bowels, nervous system, and reproductive system. And, thus it can even affect immune response.
Although there are some changes that you might be able to make like: seeking counseling and healing for relational stress, changing jobs, making time and finding ways to recharge, creating more margin in your schedule, even delegating more. For the vast majority of stress, it is how we view it that matters. You can’t always change circumstances to reduce stress. However, you can change how you view those circumstances. For me it is my faith, meditation on God’s word, prayer and breathing techniques that calm the nervous system when I notice my heart rate increasing or shoulders rising, or the panic of all the things on the to-do list.
Regularly engaging in meditation has profound effect on the nervous system, blood pressure and resiliency. Now, instead of emptying my mind, I fill it with God’s truth and meditate on a scripture. That means, I think about it, memorize it, say it over and over again in a prayerful stance. This in combination with deep, slow breathing calms my body and lets it know that it no longer needs to be in fight or flight mode. The more you do this and the higher the frequency, the greater the benefits to your body – and your mind and spirit.
Other methods of managing stress:
- Progressive relaxation – tensing and relaxing of muscle groups
- Deep breathing exercises – 4-7-8 technique
- Gratitude journaling
- Maintaining a healthy support network
- Regular physical exercise (here it is again!)
- Getting regular sleep (and again!)
- Eating healthy (and again!)
The repeat themes are eating healthy, exercising, sleep and stress management.
Are changes in these areas easy?
Are they within your control?
Is the effort worth it?
Maybe we need to do hard things right now to gird up our health so we can weather this new virus. Regardless whether this virus becomes seasonal, reducing your risk factors will benefit you in so many ways.
What is it in your future that you want to be around for?
Why is that important to you?
What are you going to do about it?
If you are interested in support in creating and sticking to healthier habits, that is what I do as a health coach. I talk with you on the phone or virtually every week as you make changes. Together we grow and learn what works for you. I am your ally, encourager, accountability partner and health mentor as you go through the ups and downs of behavior change. Schedule a free 30-minute call to discuss how health coaching can help you reduce your risk factors and support you.