February is the month of love, and we see the signs of that everywhere. Heart shapes line supermarket aisles, decorate television ads and fill candy boxes throughout the month. So it’s no surprise that the American Heart Association has named February the American Heart Month. Because heart disease is both prevalent and deadly in the United States, it’s important to do what you can to stay healthy.
Make the right choices to protect your heart
Your diet can have an impact on your health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers some tips to consider when building a heart-healthy meal:1
Choose lean meats and poultry, and remember to get rid of that fatty skin.
Eliminate the trans-fats.
When it comes to dairy, keep it low-fat or fat-free.
Read the labels to cut back on food and beverages with added sugar and sodium.
Watch your portion sizes.
In addition to watching what you eat, physical activity each day can help prevent heart disease. Whether you park further away from the entrance to a store or implement a new workout routine, every little bit can help.
However, sometimes people don’t have the option of changing their habits because they’re born with heart defects or preventative efforts fall short and damage occurs. That’s why research scientists are working diligently to establish new ways to protect and repair their hearts using stem cells.
Researchers working to help protect hearts
Research presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions showed how cord blood stem cells are being looked at to build heart valves for children with heart defects. 2 When surgery is not an option for infants born with malfunctioning heart valves, replacement valves from animal tissue are used. Challenges proposed by animal tissue replacement valves include the need for multiple surgeries to replace outgrown valves (because they don’t grow and change shape as the child develops) and the animal tissue itself may also stiffen over time and be less durable than a normal human valve. In theory, artificial valves grown using stem cells from a child’s own umbilical cord could provide a perfectly-matched new heart valve to last throughout the patient’s lifetime.
In addition to growing heart valves, growing new blood vessels using stem cells is an area research scientists are focusing on. Early results from the largest stem cell study for heart disease in the U.S. indicates that adult stem cells, when injected directly into the heart muscle, have been capable of growing new blood vessels.3 Research using adult stem cells showing promising results for regenerative medicine is good news for cord blood stem cells which can be collected at birth and cryopreserved, because our adult stem cells decrease in number and potency as we age. You can read more about this research on our blog.
While research using stem cells in the heart for regenerative applications or treatment of disease is still in its infancy it’s encouraging that such research is underway.
Help others by donating or raising awareness
Scientists aren’t the only people that can help advance research to aid people with heart disease and damage. You can help, too! The American Heart Association provides many opportunities for people like us to get involved. Here are just a few:
- Volunteer or participate in events around the country
- Get your company involved
- Honor a loved one through a tribute
You can get more information here.
Tell us, how do you stay heart healthy?
1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Healthy Lifestyle: Diet and Nutrition, Exercise and Fitness.” http://www.cdc.gov/Features/HeartMonth/
2. Science Daily. “Umbilical Cord Blood May Help Build New Heart Valves” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081110163754.htm 3. CNN.com Health. “Stem cells may offer promise for damaged hearts http://edition.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/07/14/heart.stem.cells/?imw=Y