Six top tips to fight off heart failure as new study reveals those most at risk

By Staff 9 Min Read

A simple new blood test could help identify Brits most at risk of heart disease – but how can you minimise your own chances of developing the potentially life threatening disease?

More than a million people in the UK are living with heart failure but now a simple new blood test could help identify those who are at greater risk of dying from the condition.

A study funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), published in the European Journal of Heart Failure, found patients with the highest levels of a protein called neuropeptide Y (NPY) were 50% more likely to die from a heart complication, compared to those with lower levels. Data from over 800 people at various stages of heart failure was used.

The researchers hope a blood test for NPY could be used in clinics within five years. So, what exactly is heart failure, and how can you reduce your risk?

What is heart failure?

Heart failure means the heart is no longer able to pump blood around the body properly, usually as a result of becoming weak or stiff (for example, after a heart attack or due to high blood pressure ). It can come on suddenly or gradually, with symptoms including breathlessness, fainting, fatigue and swollen legs and ankles, as well as mobility difficulties as symptoms worsen. There’s no cure but lifestyle measures and medical treatments can help manage symptoms and slow progression.

“[Heart failure] usually occurs as the end result of a number of potential underlying causes. The most common of which are high blood pressure and coronary artery disease (atherosclerotic plaques in the heart arteries leading to narrowing and subsequent heart attacks),” says Dr Shireen Kassam, consultant haematologist, certified lifestyle medicine physician and founder of Plant-Based Health Professionals UK. “Other causes include diseases of the heart muscle itself (cardiomyopathy), heart valve diseases, abnormal heart rhythms and congenital causes.”

How can you prevent heart failure? Six lifestyle rules to live by

Avoid tobacco and nicotine use

The best way to prevent heart failure is to avoid the main risk factors including smoking.

“Studies show that the nicotine in smoking products can contribute to the release of adrenaline, which can cause higher blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart failure,” says Carolina Goncalves, superintendent pharmacist at Pharmica. “There is also research to suggest tobacco smoke can damage the walls of the arteries, forcing the heart to beat harder to pump blood around the body (higher blood pressure), which in turn can cause heart failure.”

“It is clear that avoiding tobacco and nicotine, either by reducing or eliminating the use of cigarettes and vapes, can reduce the probability of heart failure.”

Reduce salt intake

Excessive salt consumption is also linked with high blood pressure and higher risk of various heart problems.

“There is also research to suggest that high salt intake can contribute to left ventricle hypertrophy, which refers to the thickening of the walls of the left ventricle. This forces the heart to pump harder than normal, increasing the risk of failure,” adds Goncalves.

While some salt is essential, we generally get what we need without having to add more. Goncalves says: “It is therefore recommended to reduce salt intake, preferably by reducing the use of table salt and relying on the naturally occurring sodium in foods for adequate sodium intake.” Keep an eye from processed foods that also have a lot of ‘hidden’ salt too, such as bread, sauces, ready-meals and processed meats.

Eating a diet rich in healthy plant foods

“[This] means that you are focussing your diet on foods that are low in calories yet high in healthy nutrients,” says Kassam. “These health-promoting nutrients include fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. In contrast, you avoid or minimise harmful nutrients found in animal-sourced foods and ultra-processed foods, such as saturated fat, haem iron, additives and preservatives.”

“As a consequence, plant-based diets have been shown to reduce inflammation, reduce insulin resistance, help to maintain a healthy weight, support better health of the gut microbiome and favourably alter gene expression. Together this significantly reduces the risk of chronic conditions, including heart failure.”

Manage stress levels

While it’s not always clear exactly how stress affects our health, it is linked with a lot of things which may contribute to heart problems.

For example, chronic stress is associated with higher levels of inflammation in the body, and Goncalves notes that stress can cause excessive levels of adrenaline a hormone that makes the heart beat faster and causes vasoconstriction (constriction of the blood vessels). “This results in higher blood pressure,” she adds.

“Consider meditating and engaging in deep breathing exercises to stay calm and prevent the frequent release of adrenaline into the bloodstream,” suggests Goncalves. “If an individual experiences chronic stress, it may be worth speaking with close ones or a counsellor to talk through and find solutions to what might be causing the stress.”

Be mindful of alcohol intake

“Alcohol consumption is more likely than not to harm health,” says Kassam. “It is a key risk factor for developing high blood pressure and heart failure. It can also cause abnormal heart rhythms and adversely affect the heart muscle.”

Engage in physical activity

Regular physical activity current recommendations suggest 150 minutes of moderately vigorous activity, alongside two to three episodes of muscle strengthening exercise per week is also key.

“This helps to maintain healthy blood pressure, reduce inflammation and insulin resistance, can help support healthy body weight, keep hormone levels stable, lower blood lipid levels, and favourably affect the gut microbiome,” says Kassam. “Regular physical activity is key for supporting heart health and preventing heart failure.”

Share This Article
Leave a comment