In my thirty-plus years of practicing medicine, here are some of the biggest heart health myths I've discovered with my patients—and how to avoid them.
- Thinking “vitamins will protect me.” A lot of people think they can eat anything they want as long as they take nutritional supplements. I remember one patient in particular who was going on a cruise and he said that now that he’s on CoQ10 and other pills he could eat anything he wanted, right? Wrong. Yes, supplements are protective. But they are not a license for eating poorly and consuming too many calories.
- A few extra pounds can’t hurt. Frequently, patients who are maybe 10 or 20 pounds heavier than they should be don’t think of themselves as overweight. But by losing even a few pounds you reduce abdominal fat, which is a major source of potentially damaging inflammatory chemicals. Lowering your body weight by just 10 percent can bring down your blood pressure numbers and reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes.
- Saturated fat is something to be feared. Patients often avoid foods containing saturated fats, such as meat, eggs, nuts, and butter, fearing that saturated fat turns into cholesterol in the body, which then promotes heart disease. Eggs have probably taken the biggest hit because of this cholesterol fear, and that’s a shame. Cage-free, DHA-fortified organic eggs are a perfect protein and can be eaten quite frequently, up to six a week. I simply don’t believe that people need to, or even should, shun all foods with cholesterol or saturated fats. Like everything else, you want balance in your diet.
- Wine is good for you, so drink up. Scientific research has shown that wine contains all sorts of healthy compounds and is at the heart of the so-called French paradox where despite eating rich, fatty foods and having an average cholesterol of 250 the French experience a relatively low level of heart disease. But the French also have the highest incidence of cirrhosis of the liver in the world. So again, moderation is the name of the game. Keep it to one glass of wine, three or four times a week.
- An aspirin a day keeps the cardiologist away. It is true that if you have coronary artery disease, an aspirin may be worth considering in order to keep the blood thin. There are, however, other natural blood thinners, such as omega-3 fatty acids and nattokinase that should be used first. Unlike aspirin, these blood-thinning alternatives don’t carry a risk for excessive bleeding. I’ve many new patients who took aspirin for primary prevention who had symptoms of aspirin side effects, including overt bruising and gastrointestinal bleeding. I got them to kick that habit in a hurry.
Now it’s your turn: Have you ever received bad heart health advice?