What do your heart valves do?
You may think you know everything about your heart but you may be missing an important piece of the puzzle. Your ticker is equipped with four heart valves, with the main one being the aortic valve. “It’s the valve that controls blood flow coming out of your heart into the rest of your body. It’s under the greatest stress,” says Elizabeth Klodas, MD, founder of Preventive Cardiology Consultants in Edina, Minnesota. After all, it’s working overtime for you. “It’s amazing that our valves don’t give out when we’re five. The aortic valve opens and closes like a door 60 times a minute 24/7. It’s a resilient, almost miraculous design that can keep going for 100 years-plus,” she adds. Take this quiz to see how much you know about your heart.
They naturally wear down
With all that opening and closing, they’re bound to see wear and tear eventually. “As people get older, it’s not unusual to see a thickening of the heart valves or a bit of an accumulation of calcium on them on a heart ultrasound,” says Dr. Klodas. A potentially life-threatening condition is called aortic stenosis, a severe thickening that begins to interfere with blood flow out of the heart. “Untreated, this has a worse outcome than metastatic cancer,” she says. A heart valve replacement is one possible treatment.
Eat real food
Heart smart moves take care of your ticker as a whole, including your heart valves. And that means managing your cholesterol. “People who have high cholesterol have more accelerated narrowing of their aortic valve,” says Dr. Klodas, who’s also the co-founder of Step One Foods. (Also be sure to avoid these foods that harm your heart.) Rather than jump to medications, she suggests looking at the quality of your diet, especially when it comes to carbohydrates. “The more processed and farther away the food is from its original form, the more likely you are to have high cholesterol,” she says. Insulin spikes from refined carbs drive LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, she explains. Focus your diet on minimally processed beans, greens, nuts, seeds, fruits, veggies, and grains.