What is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack, also called myocardial infarction (MI), occurs when blood is blocked from getting to the heart. As a result, the heart cells don’t receive the oxygen they need. This results in damage to the heart tissue, which can be mild or can be so severe that it causes sudden death.
Heart attacks are most often a result of a specific type of heart disease called coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD also goes by other names including ischemic heart disease and atherosclerosis. With CAD, arteries that lead to the heart become narrowed or completely blocked by a plaque made of cholesterol, fat, calcium and other substances (x). However, other underlying conditions can cause a heart attack as well (x).
Heart attacks are very common, occurring every 40 seconds in the United States (x). Knowing the signs and seeking medical assistance as quickly as possible help minimize the effects. Medical intervention, lifestyle changes and dietary supplements can all be useful to both prevent and treat the conditions that cause heart attacks.
Heart Attack Symptoms
Unfortunately, symptoms of a heart attack can be so vague that people may not realize the warning signs. Some symptoms also resemble other less serious conditions, such as heartburn, and are dismissed. Being aware of the signs and symptoms can allow a person to get help as quickly as possible and improve their chances for survival.
Symptoms of a heart attack include (x):
- Chest pain, especially in the center or left side of the chest — the pain can range from a dull ache to a sharp pain or feel like squeezing or crushing in the chest
- Pain in the upper body including the left shoulder or arm, neck and jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
Many people wrongly assume that men are at a greater risk of experiencing heart attacks. As a result, women are more likely to ignore symptoms and delay getting treatment. What’s more, symptoms may differ somewhat in women. For example, men tend to have more severe chest pain while women may have milder symptoms such as excessive fatigue that can be confused with other conditions (x).
Heart Attack Causes
Coronary Artery Disease
Heart attacks are most commonly a result of coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is caused by a process called atherosclerosis, which occurs when plaque, consisting of cholesterol, fat and other material, builds up inside the arteries (x). Atherosclerosis occurs slowly over time and many people don’t realize their arteries are narrowing. In fact, a heart attack is often the first indication of CAD (x).
The plaque inside arteries can cause a heart attack in two ways. One way is by making the blood vessels so narrow that blood can’t pass through. The other way plaque can lead to a heart attack is when a clot-like piece separates from the lining of a blood vessel and gets lodged in an artery, causing a partial or complete blockage (x).
CAD is a serious condition that causes over 300,000 deaths per year in the U.S. alone (x). Major risk factors include smoking, obesity and having diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol (x).
Other Heart Diseases
Heart problems like heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms (called arrhythmias) can trigger heart attacks. Coronary artery spasms, which might be caused by factors like exposure to cold, smoking, drug use or stress can also set off a heart attack (x).
Less common causes include drug use such as cocaine and amphetamines. Cocaine-related heart attacks are a common cause of death among young people (x).
Heart Attack Recovery
Most people don’t die after their first heart attack. In fact, 20 percent are “silent”, meaning a person didn’t even realize it was happening (x). Any time oxygen fails to reach the heart, however, damage to the organ can occur. The extent of the damage depends on the severity of the heart attack and how quickly someone gets medical assistance.
After a heart attack, scar tissue forms in the heart in an effort to heal the damage. This scar tissue can interfere with the organ’s ability to pump blood. Physical rehabilitation is often necessary following a heart attack and many people go on to resume their normal lives with lifestyle modifications (x).
Sometimes, however, a heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest, also known as sudden cardiac death. This is when the heart suddenly stops beating. Death occurs within a few minutes if treatment, such as CPR or defibrillation (shock), is not administered (x).
Heart Attack Treatments and Natural Remedies
Coronary artery disease may be a largely preventable condition. It’s believed that through lifestyle choices, people have quite a bit of control over the health of their heart (x). The best treatment for a heart attack therefore is never to have one in the first place.
Medication, lifestyle changes and dietary supplements can all be useful as part of the overall treatment strategy for maintaining a healthy heart both before and after a heart attack.
Lots of medication options are available to address factors that cause coronary artery disease and heart attacks. Your doctor can prescribe drugs to help (x):
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower high blood pressure
- Increase supply of blood to the heart
- Improve symptoms of heart failure
- Thin the blood to prevent clots
- Correct heart rhythm abnormalities
A minimally invasive surgical procedure involves placing stents (small tubes made of silicone, fabric or metal) in narrow or obstructed blood vessels. They help keep the blood vessels open so that oxygen-rich blood can flow more efficiently (x).
Bypass surgery might also be required to maintain proper blood flow throughout the body. This procedure involves removing clogged blood vessels and replacing them with healthier blood vessels from other parts of the body. Bypass surgery can be “open heart” or performed in a less invasive way using video monitors and smaller incisions (x).
Proper diet and exercise help keep all the systems of the body working their best, including the cardiovascular system. Lifestyle choices help you to maintain healthy weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. It also keeps inflammation in check.
Following these diet recommendations can help reduce the risk of developing heart diseases that cause heart attack (x):
- Eat at least 5 serving of fruits and vegetables per day
- Include good quality, preferably lean protein in your meals
- Eating whole grains and starchy vegetables, potatoes and legumes provide more fiber and nutrition than refined starches like white bread
- Limit total fat intake to 25-35 percent of calories per day. This should be a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats
- Try not to eat more than you need
- As often as possible, eat foods in their whole, natural form rather than processed and packaged
What constitutes a “healthy” diet differs from one person to the next and depends on the needs of the individual. While there’s no one diet that’s perfect for everyone, examples of heart-healthy diet plans include the Mediterranean diet and Paleo diet (x).
In addition, as little as 30 minutes of daily exercise can significantly improve cardiovascular conditions and overall health (x).
Supplements for Heart Attack Prevention
Supplements that come from natural, plant-derived sources have been used since ancient times to support heart health. Always check with your doctor before using supplements, especially if you already take medication.
Pumpkin Seed Extract
Hesperidin is a compound found in lemons, oranges and other fruits and vegetables. Studies show it supports blood and heart health and boosts immune function (x). As a dietary supplement, take 500 mg (1/4 tsp) of hesperidin powder one to two times daily with food and water, or as directed by a physician. However, talk to your doctor before taking this product if you are pregnant or nursing. Do not take if you have a bleeding disorder or a history of low blood pressure. Also, avoid for at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Tart Cherry Extract Powder
Tart cherry extract can help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, two risk factors associated with heart attacks (x). As a dietary supplement, take tart cherry extract 2,500 mg once daily with food, or as directed by a physician.
Hawthorn Berry Extract Powder
Hawthorn berries contain potent antioxidants that strengthen blood vessel walls. They may also reduce risk factors of heart disease like high cholesterol. In studies, people who took hawthorn berries felt improvement in their symptoms associated with congestive heart failure, irregular heartbeat, arrhythmia, low blood pressure, angina, and atherosclerosis (x, x). As a dietary supplement, take 1,200 mg of hawthorn berry extract powder one to two times daily, or as directed by a physician.
Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant naturally found in red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, reduces oxidative damage in cells. In addition to being a excellent antioxidant, studies suggest it can also lower blood pressure (x). As a dietary supplement, take 200 mg of pure lycopene powder once or twice daily, or as directed by physician.
Fish Oil Soft Gels
Research shows that taking omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil soft gels, can support heart health. They lower triglycerides and inflammation as well as act as an anticoagulant (x). Suggested serving size for fish oil is 2 capsules which could be taken 2-3 times per day.
Astragalus Extract Powder
Astragalus is an herb that when paired with conventional prescribed medications, can help improve heart function in people with heart diseases (x). Take 1300 mg of astragalus daily with meals, or as directed by a physician. Those with autoimmune diseases or who take immunosuppressants should speak with their doctor before using.
Aronia Berry Extract
Studies show that aronia berry extract keeps blood vessels healthy and may lower blood pressure (x). As a dietary supplement, take 1,000 mg of aronia berry 1-2 times per day, or as directed by a physician.
Red Yeast Rice
Red yeast rice (RYR) is rice that’s been fermented by Monascus purpureus, a type of yeast. It contains a compound called monacolin K which lowers cholesterol levels and is actually used in many cholesterol-lowering drugs (x). As a dietary supplement, take 600mg of red yeast rice one or two times daily, or as directed by physician. Use milligram scale only. For best results, take with at least 200mg Coenzyme Q10.
The Bottom Line
A heart attack is serious. Luckily, in most cases they’re not fatal the first time but they signal a need to address underlying health issues and lifestyle choices. Recognizing the signs can allow someone to get help sooner, minimizing damage to heart tissue and disruption to daily life. A combination of medication, surgery, lifestyle habits, and dietary supplements can prevent, treat, and manage the underlying issues that cause heart attacks.