8 Reasons for Heart Failure and How to Reverse Them
The heart is just a pump, a muscle. It’s simple. It squeezes the blood inside of it and valves determine how the blood flows through it. Each time the muscle contracts it squeezes about 50% to 70% of the blood out. The right side pushes the blood through the lungs. That’s all. The left side pushes the blood through the whole rest of the body – a big task!
However, the heart isn’t alone in this. There are muscles throughout the arteries that help the blood flow all the way to the capillaries, and then back to the heart through the veins. The arteries open, or relax, when the heart contracts, lowering the pressure, and allowing the blood to fill the vessels. Then, when the heart relaxes, the arteries contract to push the blood through the capillaries. This is a beautiful system of alternating contractions that keeps the blood flowing without putting too much strain on the heart.
Your heart beats about one time every second. That’s about 3600 times every hour, 86,000 times per day or over 30 million times every year. That’s a lot of beats. When does your heart get to rest? What happens if it relaxes a little and just stops beating for a few minutes? Never! There is no rest for the heart muscles as long as we live! It has to keep on working. How does it do this? The heart has to regenerate all its energy every 10 seconds!
The cells in our heart are the opposite of what we might expect. We may think that the energy is used when the muscle contracts, but that is not the case. Energy is actually used when the muscle relaxes. It’s like a mousetrap. You are putting energy into the mousetrap when you set it, then you carefully put it down. Only a tiny mouse-like touch of the trigger will make it snap, releasing the energy. The heart muscle is the same. It requires energy to set the muscle, then a tiny electrical impulse makes it snap, contract all the way, and reset again. If there is less energy, the process of resetting is slower. If it takes more than a second to reset, the electrical impulse can pass by and the cell won’t contract, thus decreasing the amount of blood the heart can pump.
The power plant of all cells is called mitochondria. These are tiny bacteria-like organelles living a separate life inside your cells whose main purpose is to make energy. There may be anywhere from one in a cell, to thousands. Liver cells have about 1000 – 2000 per cell, heart cells have over 10,000 per cell. About 40% of the volume of a heart muscle cell is filled with mitochondria. The rest of the heart is proteins that contract. That’s why they don’t need to rest. They can keep going for many years, beating constantly, and always having enough energy.
8 Reasons for Heart Failure
When the system works, as it mostly does, it’s an amazingly coordinated system. However, when it doesn’t work well problems begin: the heart can’t get the blood circulating well, causing congestive heart failure, or CHF. For example, if the blood vessels are stiff, then the heart must do all the work and the muscle thickens to keep up. If for any reason it can’t compensate then the blood backs up, causing swelling in the ankles and fluid in the lungs with shortness of breath. There are many ways the heart can stop working, slow down, or become weak. The principle reasons are:
- High blood pressure
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Diminished flow to the heart
High blood pressure is a symptom of many different diseases. If the cause is not discovered, it can lead to heart problems. Very often, heart disease and clogging of arteries are not caused by high blood pressure, but rather the other way around. When the arteries are not compliant they don’t help the heart, and the heart has to put out extra pressure to compensate – to get the blood all the way to the capillaries. This puts extra strain on the heart.
By itself, the extra strain on the heart isn’t the problem – the heart can take it! However, if there is also a problem with energy production in the heart, it will need more rest to regain the power needed. That’s where the problem lies, in a lack of energy, not high pressure.
The effect of type 2 diabetes on the heart is due primarily to the increase in fat in the blood. The heart runs mostly on fat. About 70% of the energy of the heart comes from fat, the rest comes from sugar and protein. However, when there is too much fat, it can get into the cell directly and becomes toxic. The cell then uses energy to get the excess fat out and has less energy to contract. Also, the proteins that get the fat out cause the mitochondria to “uncouple” the system and make less energy. It’s like the cell has to run on 12 volts instead of 120 volts. It goes, but not as well. It may take longer to reset the muscle cell, and less blood is pumped.
3. Nutrient Deficiency
There are several nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to heart failure. Most of them have to do with the mitochondria, or the ability to produce energy. Deficiency in any of the nutrients used in the production of energy can allow heart failure. Common deficiencies include:
- Coenzyme Q-10
A lack of these comes from a diet of processed foods. Prepared foods and processed foods contain significantly less of these nutrients than fresh foods.
The mitochondria that make energy for the heart cells are sensitive to a variety of toxins. The most common are from the calories we eat. As we discussed with diabetes, fat can be toxic to the mitochondria and causes a loss of energy. Heavy metals such as mercury and lead are less common but can be very significant. It only takes 5 atoms of mercury to destroy a mitochondrion.
One not-so-surprising contributor to CHF is a lack of exercise. When the heart is not used, the number of mitochondria in the cells diminish. It is dangerous to make more energy than necessary because energy causes free-radicals and damages the cells. The body will only do the minimum needed to function. If there is no exercise, there is no need to have extra energy lying around so the heart muscle gets weaker.
When the mitochondria are making energy, they also make oxygen free-radicals. These charged molecules damage the mitochondria themselves, as well as the cell in which they reside, creating inflammation in the proteins, membranes, and DNA. Ideally, there should be a lot of vitamins to absorb those free-radicals. Where there aren’t enough the mitochondria, and even the cells die, weakening the heart.
Having clogged arteries to the heart muscle means there is less blood to circulate, less oxygen, fewer nutrients, and less energy. Without a constant supply, the cells of the heart are unable to make energy in the abundance needed to beat constantly. If this happens to a muscle in your arm, you may get a cramp, and you can rest to relax it. However when it happens to the heart, there’s no rest, you may have a heart attack (a cramp in the heart muscle) and cause the death of many cells. This further diminishes the ability of the heart to function. Constant circulation is essential to this small muscle because it cannot rest.
Some people get viruses and other infections in the heart muscle. What would cause a little discomfort such as aches and pains in other areas of the body can be devastating to the heart. In some cases it may be mild, and the heart can recover. But in other cases the heart is significantly weakened, preventing the pump from working well, and causing CHF.
What to do?
Heart failure is primarily a problem of getting enough energy. There is a direct correlation between a failing heart and a lack of energy.All cells require a constant energy source, but the heart is different because it cannot rest. It needs a constant energy source at a very high level. It has no storage of sugar, fat or glycogen to save for a rainy day.
Congestive Heart Failure Prevention
In this case the old adage certainly applies:
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Once heart muscle is dead or debilitated it is very hard to recover the full function of the heart. There is a lot of work with stem cells that may be useful, but treatment still isn’t reliable. While we don’t have control over everything (our genes, or an infection), there is a lot we can do to prevent heart failure by minding our mitochondria.
How To Take Care of Your Heart
The following are my recommendations:
- Exercise irregularly.
You’ve heard of getting regular exercise. Well, it’s probably better for your heart to gradually increase intensity of exercise according to your tolerance, but not on a daily basis. Walk or run once or twice a week. Other times do weights or yoga. Find a hobby that requires physical labor like gardening, building, or hiking that you can do at least once per week.
- Eat your vitamins irregularly.
Many people are taking large amounts of supplements, causing expensive urine. The BEST way to get vitamins is from food. Though we like to distill everything into a pill…
As more research is done on nutrition there is more reason to use food because there are many more nutrients in the food than can fit in a pill. <click to tweet>
Choose high-nutrient-and-low-calorie foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, eggs, and whole grains. Avoid all processed foods because the vitamins are processed out. Take supplements on a weekly, instead of a daily, basis so you don’t become resistant to them or cause imbalances with other nutrients. I think there are five vitamins everyone should take:
- Magnesium – 400mg per day (if you eat green vegetables and legumes this may not be necessary)
- Selenium – 200mcg per week
- Chromium – 200mcg per week
- Vitamin D – 50,000 IU per week
- Iodine – 25mg per week
The rest of the nutrients will be abundant in a diet high in vegetables and beans.
Mending a Broken Heart
If you already have CHF there are still things you can do. A cardiologist, Dr. Stephen Sinatra, MD, has done a lot of work on this. His program starts with four of the commonly deficient nutrients:
- Magnesium – 300mg twice per day
- Acetyl-L-carnitine – 1000mg three times per day
- D-Ribose – 5 grams three times per day
- CoQ-10 – 300mg twice per day
It’s not magic – it takes six weeks or more to start seeing improvement. They don’t work alone, so the diet above is also important. These nutrients help the heart make more energy by providing the mitochondria with building blocks. They also increase the ability of the heart cells to make more mitochondria. But don’t forget one thing – muscles, any muscles, including the heart, don’t improve without exercise. If you have CHF, then you need to start slow and gradually increase exercise. I had one patient who counted steps and increased her exercise by only about 5 steps per day. She started by just going to the mailbox in front of her house, and within a year she was walking a mile!
Even if you already have CHF there is hope. Drug treatments offer only palliative care as the disease progresses.However, if you take care of your mitochondria you can prevent, and often even reverse congestive heart failure.
Here’s how dark chocolate could help your heart and how happy thoughts can lead to better long-term health.