Heart disease is the number one killer of Kiwi women, accounting for 3000 deaths among New Zealand females a year according to the New Zealand Heart Foundation.
While many are aware that a healthy diet and exercise can help, a new discovery found in the humble garlic clove could be the answer to bringing down the number of people at risk of heart attack or stroke.
Director of Research at the National Institute of Integrative Medicine in Australia, Dr Karin Ried's latest research work has uncovered a link between an aged garlic extract and reduced high blood pressure.
"High blood pressure, or a reading greater than 140/90 mmHg, together with other risk factors, including diabetes and smoking, contribute to higher risk of heart attack or stroke," explains Ried.
"In New Zealand, as in other Western countries, prevalence of high blood pressure lies around 30 per cent. Unfortunately, 33 per cent of deaths are attributed to preventable cardiovascular risk factors."
In four trials involving 250 adults with hypertension, Ried established that the aged garlic extract normalised blood pressure and reduced arterial stiffness.
How does it work?
Ried's research found that by ageing fresh garlic cloves for 20 months under controlled conditions, a biochemical change occurs in the sulphur compounds in garlic.
"These sulphur compounds in garlic are transformed into hydrogen-sulphide which works as a signalling molecule for smooth muscle cell relaxation, and vasodilation (the widening of blood vessels) which in turn reduces blood pressure."
Ried found that by prescribing two capsules a day of the high potency formula - Kyolic Aged Garlic - blood pressures were reduced on average by 10 mmHg systolic (the higher reading) and 5 mmHg diastolic (the low reading) "within two months."
Ried also shared four other ways you can immediately begin to make changes to help lower your chances of heart disease.
1. Change your diet
Changing your diet is the best way to reduce blood pressure and achieve better overall health, shared Dr Ried.
"We all know that looking after our heart health is important if we want to live long, healthy lives. And to do that, it's important to cover off the basics first.
"That means we need to start with a healthy, nutritious diet that provides lots of fresh veggies and fruit, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats."
2. Add in exercise
Carrying extra weight can take a real toll on your heart and arteries, so ensuring you are exercising regularly is key to reducing blood pressure.
Dr Ried also stressed the importance of exercise to aid stress reduction: "We need to make sure we're exercising regularly, and managing our stress well."
Making simple changes like adding in a walk with friends, taking the stairs instead of the lift, or jumping on an exercise bike while watching TV can make all the difference.
3. Manage your stress
It's important to remember in times of stress to stop and breathe deeply so your heart can take a break.
Simply taking a moment to breathe slowly and deeply for a few minutes a day can help you relax and also help lower blood pressure.
Hypertension research recommends taking six deep breaths in 30 seconds to lower blood pressure by up to 4 points.
4. Aim for magic number seven
According to a Harvard University study, adults who slept seven hours a night had less calcium in their arteries - a sign of early heart disease - than those who slept five hours or less.
The type of sleep they had was also important. Adults who got good-quality sleep also showed healthier arteries than those who didn't sleep soundly.