Relax. We know how important it is to rest. Relaxation resets our system, allowing us to have enough energy to go about our day. But did you know that the heart also relaxes? Between each beat of the heart, this muscle relaxes for just a moment.
But what happens when the heart can’t relax fast enough? This condition is called diastolic dysfunction, and it’s estimated that over 50 percent of adults over 70 years old have it.
Left untreated, diastolic dysfunction can result in heart failure. However, despite what many people are told, there are effective ways to lower the risk of diastolic heart failure.
Understanding the cardiac cycle
The heart is a muscle. It’s best described as a two-story home with four rooms called chambers. The upper level of this home has two rooms known as the atria. The bottom floor has two rooms known as the ventricles.
The primary job of the heart is to send oxygenated blood throughout the body. Blood provides cells with oxygen and nutrients and removes carbon dioxide and waste.
When the heart beats, the top two rooms of the heart (atria) squeeze and push blood into the lower rooms (ventricles). This period in which the heart muscle relaxes and the ventricles fill is called diastole.
Once the ventricles are filled with blood, they squeeze, sending the blood to the arteries, where it is delivered to the rest of the body. This contraction is known as systole.
Most people have heard of systole and diastole concerning their blood pressure. The pressure on the blood vessels increases when the heart pushes blood through the body during systole. This represents systolic blood pressure, or the top number of the blood pressure. Conversely, when the heart relaxes between beats and the ventricles refill with blood, the blood pressure drops. This represents diastolic blood pressure, the bottom number of a blood pressure reading.
Historically, systole was considered the working part of the cardiac cycle, while diastole was the resting phase. However, science now shows that diastole is not passive. In fact, it’s a complex energy-requiring process.
What is diastolic dysfunction?
When the heart is healthy, contracting and relaxing as expected, the body receives the oxygen it needs to function at optimum capacity. However, in some circumstances, the heart’s lower chambers become less elastic and more rigid.
Stiff ventricles are unable to fully relax during diastole. As a result, they can not fill completely, reducing the amount of blood pumped to the rest of the body. This inflexibility of the heart and the resulting poorly-filled ventricles is called diastolic dysfunction.
Diastolic dysfunction is often graded, levels 1 thru 4. Grade 1 diastolic dysfunction is the least severe, most common, and most easily reversible.
Is it dangerous?
Although diastolic dysfunction may not produce immediate symptoms, it tends to progress over time. If left untreated, it is incredibly dangerous and even life-threatening.
As the heart’s top chambers try unsuccessfully to pump blood into the ventricles, pressure may begin to build. As a result, fluid begins to back into the lungs or blood vessels, eventually producing pulmonary congestion and fluid in the legs and abdomen. At this point, a person is typically diagnosed with diastolic heart failure, also referred to as heart failure with preserved ejection fraction.
According to studies, individuals with diastolic dysfunction have a much higher risk of death, even if the systolic function is normal and the heart is otherwise healthy.
What are the symptoms of diastolic dysfunction?
One of the reasons that diastolic dysfunction is so dangerous is that it often doesn’t produce symptoms until the disease is advanced. Once symptoms develop, a person is typically in diastolic heart failure.
Individuals with diastolic dysfunction may notice a gradual decrease in energy and exercise capacity. Once diastolic dysfunction is advanced, the primary symptom is shortness of breath, or dyspnea. Frequently, dyspnea associated with diastolic dysfunction comes on quickly and is severe in nature. Other symptoms of diastolic dysfunction may include:
- Labored breathing during exercise
- Difficulty breathing when sleeping or lying down
- Chronic cough
- Fatigue or exhaustion
- Weight gain
- Swelling of the legs, ankles, abdomen
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
How do I know if I have diastolic dysfunction?
Doctors typically diagnose diastolic dysfunction is typically through an ultrasound of the heart called an echocardiogram. This non-invasive test can indicate how well the heart muscle is functioning. It can also measure diastolic relaxation and the extent of ventricle stiffness.
Blood work can also help detect problems related to diastolic dysfunction. For example, B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) is sometimes elevated in those with diastolic dysfunction. This is because the heart typically releases BNP in response to elevated pressure in the heart.
A BNP only gives a small glimpse into the health of the heart, so it is best in conjunction with other blood work, such as our comprehensive health assessment testing (CHAT). Testing tells us the areas we need to fix in order to recover.
Who is most at risk for diastolic dysfunction?
The heart becomes less efficient at relaxing as we get older. As a result, as we age, the risk of diastolic dysfunction increases, especially for women. The number one cause of diastolic dysfunction is high blood pressure. Additionally, it’s more common in those with:
- Coronary artery disease
- Sleep apnea
- Fatty liver disease
- High cholesterol
As with most cardiac-related conditions, diastolic dysfunction is often a result of an unhealthy lifestyle. In addition, diastolic dysfunction is a result of defective energy metabolism of the heart and increased oxidative stress.
Diastolic dysfunction is more common in those who smoke, drink alcohol, or have poor lifestyle habits. Individuals with unhealthy diets and those with a sedentary lifestyle are at the highest risk of developing the condition.
Can diastolic dysfunction be cured?
Most doctors will tell you that there is no treatment for diastolic dysfunction. After all, there are no current therapies effective in improving these patients’ outcomes.
However, knowing that diastolic dysfunction is worse in those with high oxidative stress, it makes sense that reducing free radicals in the body may help to improve outcomes.
The foundation of health starts with eating a whole-food-based organic diet, getting daily sun exposure, moving the body, and getting quality sleep. Next, address environmental pollutants and stress. Finally, get regular chiropractic adjustments to improve diastolic function.
Many nutrients may help improve diastolic dysfunction, including:
Magnesium is essential for proper heart function. Studies have found that oxidative stress impacts the mitochondria of heart cells and contributes to diastolic dysfunction. However, magnesium can negate those effects. For example, a recent study found that magnesium deficiency caused reversible diastolic cardiomyopathy associated with mitochondrial dysfunction.
Potassium is necessary for muscle contraction, including that of the heart. Studies have found that a high potassium diet helps the ventricles relax, thus warding off diastolic dysfunction.
- Omega 3s
Omega 3 fatty acids offer many protective benefits to the heart. They have been shown to reduce inflammation, lower triglycerides, and prevent blood clots. Moreover, studies have found that omega-3s may help improve diastolic function in patients with heart failure.
CoQ10 is an antioxidant that the body produces naturally. It has been shown to improve cardiac health by lowering blood pressure, heart failure deaths, and heart attack risk. Multiple studies have found that this mitochondrial energizer reduces the risk of diastolic dysfunction and improves the heart’s pumping ability.
Other helpful nutrients that help to improve diastolic function include berberine, curcumin, green tea extract, resveratrol, and silymarin. You can find all of these ingredients combined in one supplement called OptiLipid.
The Diastolic Dysfunction Supplement Plan
To best optimize your left diastolic function, we’ve developed a supplement plan that covers all of your nutritional needs. If you are concerned about diastolic dysfunction and are looking for natural treatment options, consider adding the following to your daily regimen.
|2 scoops daily
|2 capsules twice daily
|1 tsp daily
|1 capsule daily
|1 capsule daily
|2 capsules daily
The scariest thing about diastolic dysfunction is that most people aren’t even aware that it exists. However, once symptoms develop, heart failure is often on the doorstep. If you are worried about how well your heart relaxes, consider a free consultation with one of our health coaches. Your 100 Year Heart may be just a phone call away.
Eat Well, Live Well, Think Well
Medical Review: Dr. Jack Wolfson 2024