February is Heart Awareness Month! You may be thinking….I have gut problems, what does my heart have to do with this? More than you think! This post will dive into heart health and IBD – things to be aware of, the impact inflammation can have on the heart, and tips to help take care of your heart!
Inflammatory bowel disease is an autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation of the intestines. A major contributor to heart disease is chronic inflammation.
Currently the evidence shows that IBD and heart disease are linked but that one does not cause the other. The aim of this article is to spread awareness around heart health and improve self advocacy. If you have sustained chronic inflammation, consider talking to your doctor about your heart health and assessing heart health labs.
Atherosclerosis is a type of inflammatory cardiovascular disease in which the arteries build up with plaque and cause a narrowing which can block blood flow to the heart. The buildup of plaque can be caused by a multitude of things including smoking, physical inactivity, saturated fat intake, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides and cholesterol levels. More and more evidence is showing that chronic inflammatory disorders are associated with an increased risk of this disease (1).
Heart month is a time to spread awareness about heart disease and focus on things we can add to our day to contribute to our best health.
Let’s shift the focus on what we can control with IBD and heart health! Here are some things to consider:
- Chronic disease can be unpredictable. Keeping appointments, following your treatment plan, and following an anti-inflammatory meal pattern are beneficial for one’s health and are essential to keep inflammation at bay
- Stay up to date on pertinent lab work. Heart health labs to get checked include CRP cholesterol levels, triglycerides, and blood pressure. Keep reading to find out what each of these mean!
- Stay active! The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity in a week. Be sure to start slow and pick something you love to do
- Enjoy an anti-inflammatory meal pattern. A meal pattern is what we consistently eat over time and puts less emphasis on the foods we enjoy occasionally. Learn more about a heart health, anti-inflammatory meal pattern below
- Manage stress in a way that best suits you
Heart Health Lab Values
- Cholesterol: is a waxy substance found in the blood which is needed to create new and healthy cells. If too much cholesterol builds up, it increases fatty deposits in the blood vessels which is a risk factor for heart disease
- HDL cholesterol: the “good” cholesterol carries cholesterol from the blood to the liver to be excreted
- LDL cholesterol: the “bad” cholesterol that can build up in the arteries (as plaque) and cause a blockage
- Triglycerides: a type of fat found in the blood
- Blood pressure: measures the force of blood moving through your blood vessels
- CRP: C-reactive protein (CRP) is one way to measure inflammation in the body
Eating for heart health
A diet high in fiber is associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. A high fiber diet is also helpful in reducing inflammation, weight management, and insulin sensitivity which are all helpful for reducing risk of disease.
Eating for heart health can look like having more:
- Fibrous foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains with a specific emphasis on more soluble fibers. Soluble fiber can help remove LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) from the body. Soluble fiber sources include: oatmeal, avocados, squash, zucchini, bananas, and potatoes
- Healthy fats like:
- omega 3 rich fatty fish (salmon, sardines, halibut)
- Omega 3 rich nuts/seeds like walnuts, ground flax, and chia seeds
- Unsaturated fats: olive oil and avocado oil
- Lean and plant-based proteins
- This can include chicken and fish as well as beans, lentils, tofu, and edamame
And having less of:
- Red and processed meats
- This includes beef, pork, hot dogs, and luncheon meats
- North American guidelines currently suggest for people to limit salt/sodium intake to less than 2300 mg/day. This is equal to 1 teaspoon of salt
- Saturated fats/trans fats
- Saturated fats are found in animal and dairy products as well as coconut oil, cocoa butter, and palm oil
- Trans fats are found in some margarines, processed foods (donuts, cookies, cakes, fries, muffins, cheese puffs), vegetable shortening, and certain imitation creamers
- High sugar foods and sugar sweetened beverages
- 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar. There are ~39 grams of sugar in a 12 oz. cola – which is nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar
- Current dietary guidelines recommend having less than 50 grams of added sugar per day. 50 grams of sugar = 12 teaspoons of sugar
- Added sugars are the sugars added to food and fruit is not counted in the added sugar category. You can find added sugars on the nutrition facts label
If you need further support for your heart health, consider visiting the website of your local heart association or discussing your needs with your doctor. As always, send us a message if you need help with the nutrition side of things!
- Chen, B., Collen, L. V., Mowat, C., Isaacs, K. L., Singh, S., Kane, S. V., Farraye, F. A., Snapper, S., Jneid, H., Lavie, C. J., & Krittanawong, C. (2022). Inflammatory bowel disease and cardiovascular diseases. The American Journal of Medicine, 135(12), 1453–1460. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2022.08.012