HEART DISEASE is the biggest killer in the UK, but positive steps are being made towards reducing the number of deaths it causes.
Since the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007, for example, heart attacks have fallen by 40 per cent. But stopping smoking is not the only lifestyle change that can positively impact on heart health and it is never too early to make changes - a sentiment shared by Johannes Hinrich von Borstel, prospective cardiologist and a former paramedic in his new book Heart: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Important Organ.
Discussing atherosclerosis - the build up of fatty deposits in the arteries that can lead to heart disease and stroke - he said: “Atherosclerosis is the only disease that everyone in the world has from the age of 50.
“One hundred per cent of people have it - it is something you cannot completely stop, but you can influence how fast it develops.”
His book brings together the latest research as well as his own experience treating patients with a myriad of heart conditions, and von Borstal revealed ways to keep the heart healthy at every age.
Firstly, he recommended sex as one of the most beneficial exercises you can do for your heart.
Speaking to the Telegraph, he said: “As well as an entire cardiac workout, before and during intercourse there is a big release of hormones that have a protective effect on our cardiovascular system.”
He also said having sex with someone you love rather than a stranger is better for hearts because genuine affection causes the release of higher levels of oxytocin.
Next, von Borstel advised to eat raw garlic everyday and said: “Vegetables and fruits have secondary phytochemicals that have the same effect as different heart protective medications but not in a dose that is dangerous for your body.
“As long as you eat in a balanced way, it is no problem to eat these every day.”
Sleep is another key factor in heart health - researchers from the University of Warwick recently found that those who sleep for less than six hours a night and have disturbed sleep have a 48 per cent greater chance of heart disease and 15 per cent greater chance of stroke.
But sleeping too much can also be dangerous, and von Borstal said: “Sleeping too much and too little can be harmful to our health. Seven is the perfect number for most adults.”
Many people with heart issues are prescribed statins, with seven million people in the UK taking the cholesterol lowering drugs.
Von Borstel advised statins could be beneficial in patients with dangerously high cholesterol, or who have a history of heart disease but also cautioned: “The risk of side effects should be balanced with the positive effects of this therapy.
“Even if the risk of side effects is quite low, it exists.”
He recommended following a Mediterranean style diet low in saturated fat and rich in healthy fat such as olive oil.
Von Borstel’s final recommendation was one all health advocates agree on - cutting back on sugar.
He said: “Too much sugar is not good for your heart because it can cause weight gain and diabetes.
“The biggest problem is that sugar sometimes hides in food and is not recognisable – for example in noodles, white bread and potatoes.
“One of the best ways to reduce sugar intake is to cut down on food made with white flour.”
By Lauren O'Callaghan