By Stephanie Simons,
Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire
It is February, which means that Valentine’s Day is upon us. Synonymous with Valentine’s is the symbol of a heart – or in this day and age, the heart emoji! But I want to take a moment to talk about a different matter of the heart: heart health. The human heart is vital to our wellbeing, so it is important that we take proper care of it.
There are certain factors that can increase your likelihood of having heart disease, so it is important to recognise and address them: high blood pressure; high cholesterol; unhealthy diet or obesity; diabetes and smoking. Although there is nothing that can be done about them, other risk factors to be aware of are having a family history of heart disease and age: the older you get, the greater your risk of heart disease.
Some of these risk factors are particularly pertinent for Bermuda: we have an obesity and diabetes problem. In 2017, the Ministry of Health found that 34.4 per cent of adult Bermudians were obese, compared to 26.9 per cent of adults in the United Kingdom and we are beaten only by the United States, with 38.2 per cent. We also have a diabetes rate of 13 per cent among our population – nearly twice the average globally. In particular, Type 2 diabetes, which can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle, is common here.
To keep your heart healthy, take a look at your lifestyle and diet. If you are at risk for diabetes, it is better and easier to correct our eating and exercising habits before we get the disease. Making sure that you eat a well-balanced and well-portioned diet, with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and a good mix of colours, will help to reduce your chance of heart disease and go a long way towards making you feel healthier.
Making exercise a part of your routine is vital and will keep your body running at peak efficiency. Regular exercise helps to keep your weight lower, reduces blood pressure and can lower your cholesterol.
Omega-3 is often touted as a vital nutritional aid for those who want to keep themselves healthy – and with good reason. Omega-3 is a fatty acid which help reduce risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol and blood pressure. Omega-3 can be found in oily fish, walnuts and salmon. If these aren’t staples of your diet, though, then you can supplement it with cod liver oil (Seven Seas) other fish oils or flaxseed oil made by Nature’s Bounty among other brands. For those with cholesterol concerns, supplements such as Cholest-Off and Co-Enzyme Q10 can help you to keep your cholesterol levels in the healthy range – although this must be supported by a healthy diet.
Smoking and drinking heavily can put a lot of strain on the body. Smoking narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to pass and easier for blood clots to block them off. If you want to quit smoking, there are products than can help, such as Nicotinell and Nicorette patches or gum. If you want advice on how to quit smoking, please consult with a pharmacist or smoking cessation specialist, who will be happy to discuss the best option for you.
Meanwhile, excessive drinking raises blood pressure, putting you at risk for heart disease. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines low-risk drinking as no more than three drinks on any single day and no more than seven drinks per week for women. For men, it is defined as no more than four drinks in a day and no more than 14 drinks per week.
For some people who are at risk for heart disease, many health professionals recommend aspirin therapy. This is the practice of taking a baby aspirin (81mg) daily, which many studies have found to reduce the change of a heart attack. This is because heart attacks are caused by a blood clot blocking supply of the blood to the heart and aspirin lowers the blood’s clotting factor, which reduces the chance of blood clots. This therapy is recommended to those who:
- Have already had a heart attack.
- Have a stent, have had coronary bypass surgery or have chest pain caused by angina.
- Are considered high risk for a heart attack.
- Have diabetes and at least one other high-risk factor.
To find out more about whether or not aspiring therapy is for you, you should consult with your doctor or pharmacist.
It is important to look after yourself, and this includes regular physicals with your doctor, who will be able to catch things that you may not notice. This Valentine’s Day, make your greatest gift to your loved ones a renewed commitment to taking care of yourself.
Stephanie Simons is the head pharmacist at Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and has been practicing for over 20 years. She is a registered pharmacist with the Bermuda Pharmacy Council and is a member of the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association.