February is heart month in Canada, a time to raise awareness around the importance of cardiovascular health and the things that can impact it. Heart disease affects over 2.5 million Canadians each year and is the second-leading cause of death in Canada. Luckily, there are things you can do to lower your risk. However, there are often myths and misconceptions when it comes to what works. We separate fact from fiction to help you identify the evidence-based approaches you can take.
Supplements can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease: Myth
Currently, there is no consensus around the use of specific vitamin and mineral supplements for the prevention or treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Yet, their use amongst the public remains high. Consuming a healthy and balanced diet that allows you to get all of your needed vitamins and minerals without the use of supplements. A diet rich in plant-based sources is likely to help most people achieve this (unless they have specific underlying conditions that require the use of supplements).
Plant-based diets can reduce high blood pressure: Truth
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, increases the risk of developing many diseases and is a major cause of premature death. Our diet, so what we eat and drink regularly, can affect our blood pressure. Consuming an unhealthy diet, such as one that’s low in fruits and vegetables and high in salt, increases our chance of developing high blood pressure, whereas healthier diets are associated with a lower risk of developing high blood pressure. Plant-based diets that consist of a limited amount of animal products, such as the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (known as the DASH diet), lacto-ovo vegetarian, healthy Nordic, and Mediterranean diets, may help to reduce blood pressure.
Aspirin can prevent cardiovascular events: Myth
The use of aspirin to prevent cardiovascular events—such as heart attacks—in healthy adults is a controversial yet commonly prescribed approach. Research shows that in adults without a history of heart disease, aspirin use may slightly reduce the risk of heart attack, compared to taking a placebo or nothing at all. However, it does not appear to reduce the risk of stroke, death from any cause, or death from heart disease-related complications. Evidence also suggests that aspirin use can increase the risk of experiencing major bleeding, including bleeding in the skull and brain. These results do NOT apply to people with a history of heart disease or stroke.
Exercise can improve blood pressure: Truth
High-intensity interval training (known as HIIT) can decrease risk factors for chronic diseases. It may be most effective when performed at least three times a week for more than 12 weeks. HIIT can help improve diastolic and systolic blood pressure in people living with overweight or obesity.
There are many things you can do to contribute to better overall heart health. Start small, by making subtle changes to your diet, and incorporating some form of physical activity into your regular routine. Being mindful of the medications you take, and your salt intake can also help. To learn more, read through our featured resources below.