Dr. Chauncey W. Crandall, author of Dr. Crandall’s Heart Health Report newsletter, is chief of the Cardiac Transplant Program at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He practices interventional, vascular, and transplant cardiology. Dr. Crandall received his post-graduate training at Yale University School of Medicine, where he also completed three years of research in the Cardiovascular Surgery Division. Dr. Crandall regularly lectures nationally and internationally on preventive cardiology, cardiology healthcare of the elderly, healing, interventional cardiology, and heart transplants. Known as the “Christian physician,” Dr. Crandall has been heralded for his values and message of hope to all his heart patients.

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Protecting Heart Valves

Tuesday, 29 Mar 2011 10:41 AM

I like to tell my patients that the valves of the heart are like saloon doors. They swing open in a forward motion to let blood exit the heart, and then they slam shut to keep blood from flowing back into the heart chambers.

Two main things can go wrong with the heart valves. If they don’t open all the way, the path for blood flow becomes narrower. This narrowing is called “stenosis.” Imagine if one of the saloon doors doesn’t open, or only opens part way — then you have to squeeze through sideways.

The other problem occurs when a valve doesn’t close all the way. When this happens, blood leaks back into the chamber, making more work for the heart. This leaking back into the chambers is called “regurgitation.”

Blood flow that is unobstructed doesn’t make any sound. However, when blood flow is impeded by narrowing or leaking, it makes a distinctive sound known as a “murmur.”

Quite often, murmurs can occur when there is nothing wrong with the heart. These are called “innocent” murmurs. On the other hand, when a murmur is abnormal it is a clear sign of valvular heart disease.

Although there is little you can do on your own to reverse valvular disease, cholesterol management has been shown to slow the progression of aortic stenosis (narrowing of the aortic valve). To keep your cholesterol levels in check, eat fresh foods and avoid the following foods:

• Fatty cuts of meat, bacon, sausage, and processed meats

• High-fat dairy products, including butter and egg yolks

• Processed grains like cookies, cakes, and pastries

• Coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter, lard, and shortening

I’m a firm believer that 85 percent of heart disease could be eliminated with the right lifestyle habits. That includes moderate alcohol consumption (or none at all) and no smoking.

Another important preventive measure is to get some exercise every day. At the very least, take a 30-minute walk several times a week.

As always, controlling the stress in your life is vital to heart health. One of the most effective ways to do this is to have a grateful attitude and a rich spiritual life.

Preventive measures are the best way to take care of your heart and protect its valves. In the course of 70 years, the average human heart beats more than 2.5 billion times, and with every beat the “saloon door” valves have to control the flow of blood. You can keep those doors in good working order with proper diet, exercise, and good stress management.

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