You’ve got swollen painful joints, unrelenting fatigue, and stress beyond your wildest dreams with rheumatoid arthritis — you’ve got enough to worry about, right? Wrong! Did you know that this pesky autoimmune disorder could also be putting you at risk for heart disease?
Yes, that’s right – there’s a sinister relationship between your joints and your cardiovascular system, Recent research has shown a strong connection between rheumatoid arthritis and an increased risk of heart disease.
Hey, no worries, I got you! In this post, I’ll give you the lowdown on the link between rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease and I’ll review 4 ways to. decrease your risk so you can keep your heart healthy. So grab a cup of tea (or whatever your beverage of choice may be) and let’s dive in!
Why Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Cause Heart Problems?
Chronic inflammation is the root cause of the link between rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease. Inflammatory compounds called cytokines are like jet fuel for joint destruction with RA and blood vessel damage with heart disease.
Plague can build up in your arteries causing blood vessels to narrow and block blood flow which can ultimately lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Research has shown that those of us with RA have heart risks similar to people with diabetes and a 50% increased. risk of heart. attack plus twice the risk of heart. failure as those without. RA.
But, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are some easy diet and lifestyle changes you can make to cut down your risk of cardio issues.
Rheumatoid Arthritis And Heart Disease: 4 Ways To Decrease Your Risk
First things first: Breathe! Take a long, deep breath in through your nose for about four seconds, hold it for seven seconds, then exhale through your mouth slowly, taking eight seconds.
You just shifted your body from fight-or-flight mode to a more relaxed state— simply by taking that one, deep breath! Breathing is key to keeping your stress at bay.
Also, relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga are worth adding to your daily routine. And don’t forget to make time for the things you enjoy, whether it’s reading, watching a movie, or spending time with friends and family.
And make sure you’re getting enough magnesium. Stress isn’t the issue, not turning it off is where you run into health problems. Magnesium belongs in cells to turn off the stress response. In doing so, it enables healthy digestion, helps promote healthy insulin levels, reduces anxiety, and helps you sleep better.
More than 70% of Americans don’t meet the recommended daily amount of magnesium.
Whatever helps you unwind and feel more relaxed is valuable. Remember, it’s all about finding what works for you. So don’t be afraid to experiment and see what helps you feel more calm and centered.
2. Sleep Better
Getting enough sleep is crucial for all of us, but it is especially important for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Research has found that people with RA have a higher risk of heart disease, so taking steps to decrease that risk is essential.
Studies have shown that getting enough sleep can help reduce inflammation, a key factor in heart disease. Additionally, sleep helps lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular function, further decreasing the risk of heart disease.
Need a few strategies for better sleep?
- Set your electronics curfew and set them to sleep mode and/or leave them outside of the room at least 30 minutes before bed.
- Commit to a relaxing read in book form.
- Rid the room of any blue light and sound producers like phones, tablets, TVs, clocks, and computers. Switch to an old-school analog alarm clock and choose motion-sensing night lights if needed.
- Lower the temperature to 68-72F or swap to a lighter blanket/sheet set during the summer months.
- Lights out by closing the curtains or wearing a comfortable eye mask made of soft material like satin or silk.
Pick the strategy that resonates best with you to improve your sleep. Remember, consistency is key when building these sleep habits for your long-term health.
3. Move Your Body
Staying active and maintaining a healthy body weight can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Regular exercise can also help to improve joint mobility and reduce inflammation, which can in turn prevent the development of heart disease.
It doesn’t have to be hard either — walking and flexibility exercises are simple and effective ways to move your body. Make it fun and do something you enjoy!
Remember, every little bit of exercise counts, so find ways to move your body more throughout the day and aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. By prioritizing exercise, you’ll do your heart and joints a world of good!
4. Eat Better
This is super important. The quality of the food you put in your body is crucial for heart health. Your body wants nutrients in a form it recognizes and knows what to do with most easily, so it can work efficiently and effectively. Look for foods in the form closest to the way they exist in nature.
Not sure about a food? Ask yourself, “Could I make this in my own kitchen, or does it require a chemistry lab and artificial ingredients (like food colors, unhealthy fats, and unnatural sweeteners?”
How much food you put in your body matters too. When you have too much to do at one time, you get stressed and irritated, right? Well, the same thing happens in your body, which also prefers to get its workload at a manageable pace.
The great news about eating the right quantity is that you can have most foods and beverages you like; you just can’t have them in extra large amounts.
When it comes to what makes the ticker tick best, the answer is a balance of the major nutrients: carbs, protein, fats, and non-starchy vegetables.
They work together every time you eat to deliver the nutrients the heart needs while also satisfying you so you don’t overdo it quantity-wise.
How often you eat makes a big difference. Even though life isn’t a race, your body is built more like a race car than a regular car. It wants you to put in what it needs to run efficiently, then pit-stop regularly to refuel and replenish its “gas” (a.k.a. food).
If you are paying attention to quantity, quality, and nutrient balance, this means pit stops should happen about every three hours.
Now let’s talk about what foods you should make sure you’re eating every day.
- Fiber — Almost none of us are getting adequate fiber every day, so it makes sense that fiber supplements are everywhere. The problem is that this seemingly easy supplement choice can often be a source of unnatural, unhealthy ingredients, which is no heart-health win. A win is to get your fiber from whole foods like beans, whole grains, fruits, and veggies with the skins. These foods provide you with both soluble and insoluble fiber as well as water to make sure the fiber moves through you.
- Quality plants — The nutrients we get from quality plants—including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential fats—will help build and maintain a healthy heart. So, it’s a good idea to build your nutrition plan from mostly plants. This doesn’t mean you can’t have quality meats and eggs, but it does mean they should be a supporting player on your plate rather than the main attraction.
- Healthy fats — While there is some evidence that shows certain individual fatty acids support heart health, the evidence wholeheartedly shows that heart-healthy diets must include a variety of better quality fats from minimally processed foods. So, load up on wild salmon, sardines, and certain other fatty fish; sprinkle hemp, flax, and chia seeds on top of your salads and into your smoothies; snack on walnuts, olives, avocado, and other whole food sources of essential fatty acids.
- Spices — Spices—all of them—add great taste to food and help replace added sodium for a heart-health win. Spices also provide other heart-healthy benefits: They’ve been shown to promote a healthy inflammatory response (i.e., ginger and turmeric), healthy blood sugar regulation (i.e., cinnamon), and more.
- Cacao — Yah, chocolate! Cacao fruit gifts us cacao nibs which can be consumed by themselves for heart health benefits (magnesium, antioxidants) or as a powder for hot cacao or made into chocolate. Choose organic cacao, especially when choosing raw, and aim for a good source (dark chocolate should contain >65% cacao) as well as the other ingredients should also be heart-healthy.
Conclusion: Rheumatoid Arthritis and Heart Disease
If you have rheumatoid arthritis and want to decrease your risk of heart disease, there are a few simple steps you can take. First, try to reduce your stress levels.
Consider carving out a little “me-time” every day, whether that means reading a book, indulging in some aromatherapy, or just sitting quietly and contemplating the mysteries of the universe (or whatever works for you).
Second, make sure you’re exercising regularly. Even gentle activities like yoga or swimming can be helpful.
And speaking of sleep, that brings us to our third point of discussion. Get enough of it! Aim for at least 7-8 hours a night, and consider establishing a relaxing bedtime routine.
Finally, make some changes to your diet. Get in more of the good stuff like fiber, quality plants, healthy fats, spices, and cacao. Remember this: your health is worth prioritizing. You are so worth it!
Listen up, ladies with autoimmune diseases! Are you tired of feeling like your body is attacking itself? It’s time to take control and kick those pesky symptoms to the curb!
And who better to guide you on your journey to a happier, healthier you than a registered dietitian who specializes in autoimmune disease? So don’t wait, sign up for an Autoimmune Breakthrough Session with me and let’s get cooking up some delicious and nutritious solutions!
***Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice***