Thump, Thump—February is American Heart Month!

Thump, Thump—February is American Heart Month!

American Heart Month

February is the month dedicated to matters of the heart—it's American Heart Month plus we have Valentine’s Day—so it's only natural to open up the conversation around protecting this vital organ. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in America. So what can you do to take care of your heart’s health?

One of the big lessons to keep in mind when it comes to heart health: It goes far beyond just lowering bad cholesterol.

Although it's no bigger than your fist, your heart beats 100,000 times each day and sends 2,000 gallons of blood throughout your body. That's quite an amazing function!

Two things you can do to ensure optimal heart health are to eat healthy and exercise. There are also some obscure heart health tips such as laughing (laughter is actually good medicine!) and controlling your stress especially on Mondays (the day when heart attacks are most likely to occur).

But all these smart heart health choices start with knowing the facts, so below we bust some common myths about heart health and provide the heart-saving truth:

Myth #1: Statins prevent heart attacks in people with high cholesterol

Statins have an important place in the medical treatment of heart disease for individuals that already have heart disease. In those affected by heart disease, statins reduce heart attacks and death. Studies show that for every 39 people treated, one repeat heart attack was prevented over a 5 year period.

In people with high cholesterol and no pre-existing heart disease, statins do not have the same effect.  In fact, for every 60 people treated only one heart attack was prevented over a 5 year period.  The statin side effect profile like muscle pain and cognitive problems outweigh the benefits in healthy individuals.

Myth #2: Low fat diets prevent high cholesterol

We have been scared of fat since the 70s when it was touted as the cause of obesity and heart disease. Unfortunately, this linear equation is too simplistic as our society has higher rates of obesity and heart disease today than ever before.  It’s time to make a truce with fat.

The real problem lies in the types of fat we choose. Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory whereas omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory and the ratios of these fats in the standard American diet are now greatly skewed. The goal is to have approximated 1:1 of the two fats and today’s typical diet has 15:1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s.

Our bodies cannot make omega-3s, so they must be consumed in our diets. Here are some omega-3 rich foods:

  • Fish: salmon, halibut, sardines
  • Grass fed beef
  • Eggs from chickens fed an omega 3 rich diet
  • Butter from grass fed cows
  • Duck fat
  • Nuts and seeds: walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds
  • Collard greens
  • Brussels Sprouts

Here are omega-6 rich foods to watch out for:

  • Vegetable oils

    • Soybean oil (in many fast foods and processed foods)
    • Corn oil
    • Safflower oil
    • Grape seed oil
    • Cotton seed oil

  • Cereal Grains including whole wheat bread
  • Peanuts
  • Grain-fed meats
  • Margarine
  • Potato chips
  • Mayonnaise (most use cotton seed oil)
  • Prepared tomato sauces (many use cotton seed oil)

For more information on making peace with fat for healthy body composition, check out

Myth #3: It's normal for blood pressure to rise with age

Many Americans see their blood pressure rise as they age. Although this may be common doesn't mean it's healthy. "It happens because artery walls become stiff with age," reports Harvard Medical School. "Stiff arteries force the heart to pump harder and this sets up a vicious cycle. Blood pounding against the artery walls damages them over time. The overworked heart muscle becomes less effective and pumps harder to meet the body's demands for blood. This further damages the arteries and invites fat into the artery walls. This is how high blood pressure increases the risk."

Monitor your blood pressure and if it's high, talk to your doctor about incorporating exercise into your life. You should also monitor your sodium and alcohol intake.

Myth #4: Fit people don't need to worry about heart health

Exercise and eating healthy play a big role in keeping your heart (and the rest of your body) healthy, but genetics also plays a part in your heart's health. If heart problems run in your family, that doesn't mean you can't avoid the same fate—plenty of risk factors are within your control—but you should inform your doctor of your family history and ask if there is anything else you can do to improve your cardiovascular health.

What do you do to take care of your heart's health? Tell us in the comments. 

- Dr. Thalia Farshchian, Naturopathic Doctor

This post is solely for informational purposes. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for medical advice. Before undertaking any course of treatment or dietary/health changes, you should seek the advice of your physician or other health care provider.

We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.