A conversation with Thunder Jalili, PhD
EARLIER THIS YEAR, Melaleuca commissioned the University of Utah to conduct clinical research on ProvexCV®. Dr. Thunder Jalili was the lead researcher on the project. At the conclusion of the study, we sat down with Dr. Jalili to discuss the research findings. In the course of conversation, we asked some fundamental heart health questions. The answers are worth sharing with everyone.
A lot of people don’t think about heart health until it becomes a problem. Why is that?
Most people do not really take heart health seriously until something happens. Either they gain weight or they go to the doctor and they find their cholesterol is up, or maybe their blood pressure is up.
Wouldn’t people be better off caring for their heart long before their doctor gives them concerning news?
Absolutely. If you establish good habits when you are young, you can actually prevent a lot of diseases. Also, if you develop good habits when you’re young, making further lifestyle changes when you’re older is not nearly as traumatic or as difficult.
How long does heart disease take to develop?
One of the challenges is that it takes a long time for problems to manifest. There are no warning signs. There is no physical indication. People can have hypertension or high cholesterol for years—maybe even decades—before something happens. The first warning sign is usually in the form of a heart attack. That could be a fatal warning sign.
What can people do to prevent heart health issues?
Check your blood pressure. Check your cholesterol levels. Recognize that you may look healthy, you may feel healthy, but there still may be some underlying issue with your cholesterol or blood pressure.
Why is high blood pressure so dangerous?
The answer is pretty simple: it produces a strain on the heart. When blood pressure is high, the heart has to pump extra hard to move blood through a system that now has extra resistance. That extra pumping action results in growth and an enlargement of the heart muscle. An enlarged heart is more susceptible to abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia), enlargement of the heart (hypertrophy), and coronary artery disease—and is more likely to suffer a heart attack.
What’s the problem with a heart that pumps harder? Isn’t that the goal of aerobic exercise? What’s the difference?
If you think about someone who runs or lifts weights, there may be an hour or two a day when their blood pressure is higher. So their heart grows a little bit to accommodate the next time they exercise. But with hypertension, blood pressure is high 24 hours a day, seven days weeks. So the heart is always working in a phase of increased pressure. The growth that occurs is more extreme. That’s what can lead to heart failure.
Doesn’t exercise actually help lower blood pressure?
Yes. When you exercise, your blood pressure is up during that time of exertion, but afterward there is the beneficial effect of better relaxation. Exercise also enhances the ability of the endothelial cells to function (these are the cells that line your arteries and allow your blood to flow freely). So exercise basically promotes arterial relaxation in the long term.
What role does nutrition play in maintaining heart health?
If we do not eat well, and we over-consume calories and gain weight, we can develop signs of insulin resistance or diabetes. That’s a really dangerous condition for the heart. When somebody has diabetes, it makes it easier for fatty clots to form in the blood vessels, which can eventually lead to a heart attack. Nutrition can also positively affect blood pressure. Hypertensive people who add more fruits and vegetables to their diets, for example, can experience a slight reduction in blood pressure.
Does a change in what you eat really make a difference?
Fruits and vegetables have a number of different nutrients that all act together to benefit the heart. They can act as antioxidants or can act independently to enhance the heart’s function. Fruits and vegetables can also help promote vessel relaxation.
What about salt?
Sodium promotes fluid retention, so it increases plasma volume. That in turn drives blood pressure higher. It turns out around 10% or so of the general population is what we call “salt sensitive.” In other words, if they eat too much salt, their blood pressure goes up. Among African-Americans, about 50% are salt sensitive. The simple act of reducing sodium intake, eating less processed food and not using salt as an additive can go a long way in reducing blood pressure in those individuals.
What’s the best approach for maintaining healthy blood pressure?
There are many aspects that can impact healthy blood pressure. Supplementation has a role, as does lifestyle modification—like trying to cut out processed foods, eating a lower-sodium diet and getting regular exercise. All components play an important role in maintaining healthy blood pressure.
Improvements in cardiovascular health can benefit everyone. As more people take better care of themselves, we make huge strides in limiting cardiac disease. Preventive action reduces overall healthcare costs. It significantly impacts government expenditures on healthcare. But the real benefit is measured in individual lives.
Thunder Jalili, PhD is an associate professor and director of the Nutrition Sciences Masters Program at the University of Utah and performed his postdoctoral fellowship in cardiology at the University of Cinncinnati. In addition to teaching, Dr. Jalili regularly publishes in the area of cardiovascular disease and nutrition. He recently led groundbreaking research underscoring the blood pressure benefits of ProvexCV.