Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Europe and the United States and according to the European Heart Journal (August 2014) is estimated to account for 29-30% of deaths worldwide. One study (J. Family Practice, July 2011) reported that more than 70 percent of U.S. women and men between the ages of 60 and 79 have cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is defined as a disorder of the heart and circulatory system, but is not a single disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common and preventable heart condition. It is caused by atherosclerosis, defined as a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply oxygen and blood to the heart. Other types of common heart disease include hypertension (high blood pressure), and atrial fibrillation (arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythm).
The heart isn’t just a physical organ that pumps blood; it is the master organ of the human body and the center of emotional and spiritual life. Using a “holistic” or “integral” health and medical model, we can provide a more comprehensive and practical understanding of the heart that goes beyond a biomedical model. In this series of articles I will explore the powerful role that diet, emotions, exercise, and lifestyle choices play in keeping you and you heart healthy.1
Basic Facts: why you should pay attention
According to the Center for Disease Control, each year 785,000 Americans have their first heart attack and at least 470,000 people who have had at least one attack will have another. When considering medical services, medications and lost productivity, heart attacks were estimated to cost more than $316 billion in 2010. Heart disease does not discriminate. It is a leading killer for men, women and all major ethnic groups. Signs and symptoms of heart disease differ between men and woman, and it is sometimes unrecognized in women.
Though men and women are equally at risk for heart disease, a recent survey found that 36% of women did not consider themselves at risk, even though heart disease killed one in four women in 2006. Men are at greater risk for sudden cardiac events, comprising 70 – 80% of those attacks. A 2009 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that women are often more frequently diagnosed with the disease, but men experience it more extensively and have worse long-term survival rates. The National Health Institute reports that half of the men who die of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. “Sudden cardiac death” (SCD) may be the first time you have any symptoms of heart disease! That’s why it’s important to have regular check-ups and eat a heart-healthy diet. The good news is that the most common types of heart disease are preventable and reversible 100%, naturally.
Though the disease has slightly different consequences across genders, preventable heart disease risk factors for men and women are the same, and the CDC reports that nine out of 10 heart disease patients have at least one risk factor. These include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking, being overweight or obese (especially in the midsection or abdominal area where waist-to-hip ratio is key), poor diet, physical inactivity and heavy alcohol use. Heart disease can even be correlated to erectile dysfunction in men.
The import role of Cholesterol
Most of us have heard about cholesterol. Cholesterol is medically recognized as one of the principle risk factors in heart disease, but it is not the only one. C-Reactive protein (CRP) levels which indicates the level of inflammation in the body, is the other key factor, but is less well known. Cholesterol is a fatty-like natural substance produced in the body that is essential to cell function and certain hormone production. Cholesterol is produced in the body. Unfortunately too much LDL (low-density) cholesterol, commonly found in saturated animals fats, can create health problems. By learning the breakdown of the different types of cholesterol and triglycerides (stored fats-lipid) in your body you can have a clearer awareness of your risk factors. Generally speaking the lower the cholesterol the better. To know your current heart health state you need to know the breakdown of the different types of cholesterol and triglycerides (stored fats-lipid) in your body.
Cholesterol, which does not dissolve in blood, travels through the blood attached to a protein known as a lipoprotein. There are two types of lipoproteins: low-density (LDL) and high-density (HDL). LDL is often called “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque build up on the arterial walls. HDL, sometimes called “good” cholesterol helps get rid of the LDL in your blood (for more details see www.conscioushealthinstitute.org). LDL cholesterol particles are generally small and dense. They are frequently associated with low HDL cholesterol levels, elevated triglyceride levels, and the tendency to develop high blood sugar levels and type II diabetes.
As cholesterol plaques grow they block blood flow in the arteries. A cholesterol plaque may at some point suddenly rupture. This results in a blood clot that forms over the broken tissue, which can eventually cause a heart attack or stroke.
Statins are the most commonly prescribed treatment for lowering cholesterol. Despite commonly accepted opinion among biomedical physicians and public, they are not necessary for lowering cholesterol levels and cause serious side effects in the body. Diet is a key factor in heart disease since cholesterol is found in animal and dairy products. Its kinds and levels can be directly linked to diet, making diet a key factor in heart health. In our next article we will explore further the role of diet in the prevention and treatment of heart disease.
1 All suggestions made are general and provisional. Health decisions should be based your unique needs and condition in consultation with a trained medical professional.
Originally published as a two part series in Issues 18 and 19. Download the full issue here