You probably know that your diet is a critical part of heart health. Adding healthy foods that contain fiber and are loaded with antioxidants can do wonders for your cardiovascular system. Now there’s another food ingredient that may be even better for your heart that the experts realized: Oleic acid may actually cut your risk of heart diseases by half.
A five-year study published in the journal BMC found that people who consumed olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil daily cut their risk of a cardiovascular event by 48 percent. So what is oleic acid and why is it so effective?
What is oleic acid?
“Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid,” says Luke Laffin, MD, preventive cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “It can be found naturally in meats, cheese, nuts, avocados, and edible oils such as olive oil.” You may recognize these foods as part of the Mediterranean diet.
“Significant consumption of extra virgin olive oil (in place of substances like butter), is one of the reasons why a Mediterranean dietary pattern is favored by most cardiologists when recommending a ‘heart-healthy’ diet,” says Dr. Laffin. That’s just one of the 45 things that doctors do for their own heart health.
RELATED: Silent signs of a heart attack
Silent signs of a heart attack
Silent signs of a heart attack
Dr. Stacey E. Rosen, MD, a Go Red For Women cardiologist at North Shore-LIJ Health System, says this is one of the most common symptoms she sees (especially in women heart attack patients). “In my 25 years of practice, people on the verge of a heart attack report feeling tired and not able to do their usual activities,” she says. During a heart attack, blood flow to the heart is reduced, putting extra stress on the muscle, which could make you feel exhausted, according to WebMD.
Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to do an electrocardiogram (EKG), which checks heart activity. “Sometimes when people present with lethargy, doctors won’t immediately order an EKG, which can detect a heart attack; but you should request one from your doctor, just to be safe,” says Annapoorna Kini, MD, of The Mount Sinai Hospital. Here are some other tests for your heart that could save your life.
Soreness in the back, arms or chest
Noticeable pain or soreness in the back, chest, or either arm is often a silent heart attack sign. As MyHeartSisters.org explains it: “When heart muscle cells begin to run out of oxygen during a heart attack because of a blocked artery preventing oxygenated blood from feeding that muscle, they begin to send off pain signals through the nervous system. Your brain may confuse those nerve signals with signals coming from the arm (or the jaw, shoulder, elbow, neck or upper back) because of the nerve proximity.”
Because the pain is often not accompanied by the typical chest heaviness associated with heart attack, people tend to ignore it, says Dr. Rosen. “I’ve had patients say they only felt the pain when they were working out, so they assumed it was just from exercise, but that’s not right,” says Rosen. “If the symptom is something new, that’s worrisome and you should see a doctor.” Here are some non-medical signs you might be at risk of a heart attack.
Shortness of breath
If a flight of stairs up from the subway is usually no problem, but suddenly you find yourself gasping for air at the top, it could signal a heart attack. “Women especially tell me that walking up steps or carrying groceries they noticed feeling fatigued or breathless when they normally wouldn’t,” says Rosen. If you feel short of breath right after waking up, that’s also a sign that something could be wrong, says Dr. Kini. The heart plays a key role in transporting oxygen to the rest of your body and removing carbon dioxide from tissues, so blocked blood flow to the heart could affect your breathing, according to MayoClinic.com. Here are some other ways heart attack symptoms are different for women.
Heartburn or belching
If you have an occasional heartburn flare-up after a heavy pizza lunch, it’s probably nothing to worry about, but if it’s out of the ordinary or heartburn has never bothered you before, call your doctor because it could signal a heart attack. Angina, a heartburn-like chest pain, is caused by lack of blood flow to the heart, which is what happens during a heart attack, Ryan Madonick, MD, a gastroenterologist, told Health.com. Here are some other reasons you shouldn’t ignore heartburn.
Heart attack symptoms can sometimes mimic stomach problems like nausea, vomiting, or overall GI upset—especially in women, says Dr. Rosen. “If you don’t feel well, always call your doctor. It could be that taco you had at 10 p.m. but it can also be a heart attack, which could turn out to be catastrophic,” she says. Learn the possible explanations behind several types of stomach pain.
Throat, neck or jaw discomfort
Unexplained discomfort of the neck or jaw, or a tightness in the throat you’ve never felt before, can indicate a heart attack, says Dr. Kini, and you should immediately contact a doctor. It’s especially important for people with diabetes to pay attention to subtle changes like this because they have trouble feeling sensations, says Dr. Rosen. They’re less likely to feel more typical symptoms like chest pain. Here are some other potential complications diabetics might have, and how to prevent them.
An overall feeling that something's wrong
“Heart attack patients have told me they have a feeling of doom—like something’s just not right,” says Dr. Rosen. “Listen to that little voice in your head. If something feels off, it’s always better to be overly cautious and call a doctor.” Dr. Rosen says some of her patients have reported feeling “less mentally sharp” right before a heart attack. Here are some everyday ways to reduce your risk of a heart attack.
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How does oleic acid work to improve cardiovascular health?
It helps your heart in more ways than one. “Oleic acid reduces low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and blood pressure; it also improves insulin sensitivity,” says Dr. Laffin. “Thus, oleic acid addresses three major risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease: hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia.”
You won’t need to eat much: “Daily consumption of about 1.5 tablespoons (20 grams) of oils containing high levels of oleic acid, when replaced for fats and oils higher in saturated fat, can reduce one’s risk for heart disease,” says Dr. Laffin. And while oleic acid can be found in a variety of foods, he suggests choosing plant-based sources.
“Plant sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil, tree nuts, and avocados. I particularly favor the inclusion of extra virgin olive oil and tree nuts in one’s diet,” says Dr. Laffin. A final note: Since most oils and nuts are high in calories, remember to stick to proper portion sizes or calculate the extra calories into your daily intake. Next, read about the 50 best foods for your heart.
Tend to morph into the Hulk when you’re upset? Those fiery emotions can drastically increase your risk for a heart attack. Researchers at the University of Australia questioned 313 patients who had suffered suspected heart attacks about their anger levels before the onset of symptoms. They found that patients were 8.5 times more likely to have a heart attack in the two hours following an intense outburst of anger, defined as “very angry, body tense, clenching fists or teeth.” The more often you’re angry, the higher your chances for a heart attack. These 15 doctor-approved tips to prevent heart disease could save your life.
You spend most of your time in front of a screen
Yes, that includes working on your computer. A study from the University College London reports that people who watch TV or work on a computer for four or more hours a day increase their risk of an event associated with cardiovascular disease, like a heart attack, by 125 percent. Long periods of sitting deplete the body’s supply of lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that breaks down fat and prevents clogged arteries. If you spend most of your day plopped behind a desk, take a brief walk after every 20 minutes or try a standing desk. You can burn 30 percent more calories when you stand than when you sit. Here are a cardiologist’s tips for sneaking in exercise.
You log less than six hours of sleep each night
Many adults struggle to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but consistently missing that mark could be deadly. A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health found that Japanese men who got less than six hours of sleep were five times more likely to have a heart attack than men who slept seven or eight hours a night. Another study from Jichi Medical School in Tochigi, Japan, found the same risk applied to Japanese women who got less than six hours of sleep. Learn how to prevent heart disease with these 30 simple tips.
You live in a smoggy area
Smog is just as bad for your heart as it is for your lungs. Researchers used hourly air pollution measurements in South Boston to determine how exposure to particulate matter (small combustion particles that come from fuel burning and vehicle emissions) affected patients in this area who had heart attacks. They found that exposure to high concentrations of air pollution increased the likelihood of a heart attack by 48 percent in the two hours before patients first experienced heart attack symptoms. The risk went up to 69 percent when people were exposed to high levels of air pollution for 24 hours before the onset of symptoms. Check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s website to see how smog affects your neighborhood.
Divorce can cause literal heartache. Researchers at the Duke University School of Medicine conducted an 18-year-study of nearly 16,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 80 who had been married at least once. Every two years, researchers assessed the participants’ marital status and overall health. Divorced women were 25 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who stayed married. Women who had two or more divorces were 77 percent more likely to have a heart attack. As for the men, the risk of heart attack stayed the same regardless of whether they were married or divorced—at first. But if they divorced at least twice, their heart attack risk increased by 30 percent.
It's Daylight Savings Time
When researchers examined three years of Michigan hospital records to track the number of heart attacks that required stent insertions, they found that the frequency of these procedures fluctuated when Daylight Saving Time started and ended. On the Monday after “springing ahead” an hour, there was an 24 percent increase in heart attacks. (However, on the Tuesday after “falling back,” there were 21 percent fewer daily heart attacks). Since the total heart attack counts for those weeks were not drastically different from other weeks, researchers determined that the time changes didn’t necessarily make the heart attacks happen, but rather made them likely to occur sooner than they otherwise would have. This is probably due to disrupted sleep-wake cycles and increased stress at the start of a new week of work. Here are tricks to make the Daylight Saving switch less toxic to your heart.
You live in an area with extreme temperatures
Studies show that both extreme cold and extreme heat can put people at risk for heart attacks. Using data from cardiac patients in the Worcester Heart Attack Study, scientists found that exposure to temperatures lower than 17º F in the two days prior to a heart attack increased patients’ risk by 36 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, British researchers found that once the temperature reaches 68º F, each increase of 1.8º F increased the risk of heart attack by 2 percent over the next one to six hours. On the first day of a hot spell, that risk jumps up to 6.5 percent per 1.8º F increase. Learn what heart doctors do to protect their own hearts.