Some 5.7 million adults in the United States have heart failure, which happens when the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs in the body. People with heart failure experience symptoms that significantly impact their quality of life, such as shortness of breath during the activities of daily life and general fatigue and weakness, as their hearts strain to pump blood through the body.
Medications and lifestyle changes can help patients live longer and more active lives, but there is no cure. That means prevention is paramount.
General heart-healthy measures are a good place to start. Doctors generally recommend a diet that emphasizes vegetables and fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, legumes, and lean protein, such as fish and poultry. It’s also important to limit saturated fats, sugar, alcohol and, particularly, sodium.
In fact an alarming new report suggests that the amount of sodium in the typical American’s diet may be sufficient to damage the heart muscle, potentially increasing the risk of heart failure. The study found that participants who consumed more than 3.7 grams or 3,700 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day were more likely than those who consumed less salt to have enlarged, weaker left chambers of the heart. These chambers are responsible for pumping oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. People who consumed more than 3.7 grams of sodium daily were also more likely to show signs of muscle strain in the heart muscle, often a precursor to structural damage.
According to the American Heart Association, the average American eats about 3,400 milligrams (3.4 grams) of sodium a day. However, the association recommends no more than 2,300 mg (2.3 grams) a day and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg (1.5 grams) per day.
To avoid excessive salt, be sure to read food labels for sodium content. Many canned, prepackaged and processed goods—such as soup and snacks—are notorious for added sodium. That goes for premade sauces, mixes, and “instant” products, such as rice, noodles, and ready-made pasta, too.
Cooking from scratch allows you to control the amount of sodium you consume. A promising eating plan is the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which has been shown to lower blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol. Keep in mind that restaurant meals often contain more salt than you would ordinarily use at home.
Increasing your physical activity, managing stress, and striving for a healthy weight are also key to avoiding heart failure. Being overweight puts strain on the heart and increases the risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, which can lead to heart failure. If you smoke, aim to kick the habit.
Such measures are particularly important for people with established heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes and those who have experienced a heart attack. Each of these conditions increases the risk of heart failure. To keep the heart as healthy as possible, it’s vital to take medications prescribed to treat these conditions.
It may make sense to consider taking the supplement known as CoQ10. CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect against damage from harmful free radicals. A 2014 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Heart Failure found that the supplement reduced deaths in patients with severe heart failure by half, compared to a control group.
CoQ10 is present in every cell in the body but levels drop with age, which can raise the risk of heart problems, including heart failure. A simple blood test available from the Cleveland HeartLab can help determine if CoQ10 levels are adequate. Together these measures can help to keep your heart strong, ensuring a long and healthy life.