Heart Disease is a Leading Cause of Death

If you think that cancer is the number one killer, you would be right. Certainly, there is a lot of information in the media about this devastating disease. You may be surprised to learn, though, that cancer has only recently made it to the top of the list of causes of death. Heart disease was the reigning number one killer for a many years, and is still a very serious health concern.

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is not a single medical condition, but rather a term that describes several conditions that have a negative effect on the heart muscle and how it functions. The HeartMart website describes most of the common conditions – take a visit! What you learn might help save your life or the life of a loved one.

Factors that Contribute to Heart Disease

A number of factors have a hand in your likelihood of developing heart disease.

  1. Genetics

You have absolutely no control over your family history, but it is a major heart disease risk factor. If a close relative has had heart disease, you have a greater chance of developing this condition yourself. That doesn’t mean you should throw up your hands and conclude that there is nothing you can do. An increased risk is not a sure thing and if you focus on the things you can control (level of physical activity, diet and being a non-smoker), you may go through life without developing heart disease at all.

  1. Smoking

Cigarette smoking is an extremely hard habit to break. The nicotine contained in cigarettes is a highly-addictive substance. When a smoker takes a drag off a cigarette, they experience a rush from the nicotine within a few seconds, and this is what the nicotine addict craves.

  1. Obesity

Obesity is another condition that increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease, and unfortunately, it is on the rise in the United States.

Obesity is defined as weighing 30 percent or more above the recommended weight standards for an individual’s height.

In your quest to lessen your risk of developing heart disease, it’s important to keep your cholesterol levels down to the recommended range. If you have been told by your doctor that you have high cholesterol, you can try to control your condition by making changes to your diet. Medications may be prescribed to regulate your cholesterol levels as well.

The best things you can do for yourself when trying to prevent heart disease is to eat well and be physically active. A balanced diet that includes a variety of foods will help you look and feel better. You do need some fat in your diet, so don’t think that by eliminating all fats that you are going to lessen your risk of developing heart disease. Regular exercise helps to strengthen the heart muscle and burns fat, too.

Keep an eye on the HeartMart blog and plan on visiting regularly. We will be posting healthy diet plans for you to follow, along with suggestions for exercise routines you may want to try. Other posts will deal with how to determine whether you are at risk for developing heart disease.

Early Menopause Linked to Heart Disease

Women who go through menopause in their mid-forties are at increased risk of various heart disease, according to researchers. The results, which were released at a meeting of the Endocrine Society in San Diego, indicate that going through menopause before age 46 may put a woman at double the risk for a heart attack or stroke later on in life.

Taking hormone replacement therapy doesn’t lower the risk for women who go through the change of life early. Taking artificial hormones was recommended as a way to reduce the risk of developing heart disease in menopausal women.

A woman who knows she is at higher risk for cardiac issues can take steps to monitor her health more closely, such as eating well and getting regular exercise. She can also get her blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly. If the levels increase beyond a normal level, the doctor can discuss an appropriate treatment plan with her that may include lifestyle changes and/or medication.

Even if a woman doesn’t go through menopause early, she should still see her doctor for regular checkups. If the doctor doesn’t bring up the issue of heart disease prevention, the woman should do so. Checking cholesterol levels should be part of this process, especially if there is a family history of high cholesterol.

Over the Counter Pain Meds Linked to Heart Disease

Taking readily available pain medications can increase the risk of heart disease in healthy people, according to Danish researchers. Ibuprofen is commonly used for headaches, reducing fever, muscle aches, menstrual cramps and other kinds of pain. The packaging warns against stomach upset for people who take it, but perhaps the manufacturer should be indicating that more serious health problems can result from its use.

These non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDS, are also available as prescription-strength drugs used to treat mild to moderate pain, as well as arthritis. The Danish study looked at medical records of more than one million people between 1997 and 2005. The average age of the patients studied was 39 years of age.

People who took high does of ibuprofen (which was defined as more than two or three pills per day) were at increased risk of developing heart disease. One prescription strength NSAID, Diclofenac, was found to increase the risk of cardiovascular issues by over 90 percent.cardiovascular stress photo

Used in moderation, these medications may lower the risk of heart disease. One brand that is commonly available in drug stores, Aleve, seems to do just that.

The American Heart Association linked NSAIDS to cardiac issues in 2007. At that time, doctors were advised to consider other options for pain relief for patients who are at risk for developing heart disease.

If you need to take medications for pain relief regularly, do discuss what you are taking with your doctor. There may be better options that don’t increase your risk of cardiac problems.

Brush Your Teeth; Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease

As a child, you were probably told that you should brush your teeth at least twice a day. Not only will doing to give you a nice smile, but it can lower your risk of developing heart disease.

Researchers have already connected the dots between gum disease and inflammation in other parts of the body, including the heart. The results of study published in the online version of the British Medical Journal points to good oral hygiene as a way to lower the risk of heart disease.

The researchers collected data from 1,100 adults in Scotland for analysis. The participants who reported brushing their teeth less often than twice a day had a 70 percent higher risk of heart disease than those who brushed more often. The risk factor was adjusted after taking other risk factors for the disease, including being overweight or obese, family history of coronary problems and smoking.

Gum Disease and Risk of Heart Disease

The link between gum disease and the likelihood of developing heart disease was discovered in the late 1980s. There are a couple of theories about why this may be the case. One of them is that bacteria in the mouth attaches itself to plaque in the coronary arteries. A buildup of plaque can block off the coronary artery, resulting in a heart attack.

The second theory about heart disease and dental issues concerns the swelling that accompanies periodontal disease. The inflammation may lead to a buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries, which causes the arteries to swell. If the blood flow to the heart is restricted by the swelling, the affected individual is at risk of having a heart attack.

See Your Dentist Regularly

To lower your risk of heart disease from gum disease, get a dental checkup every six months. Brush and floss your teeth as your dentist advises. If your dentist recommends follow-up care, make sure you keep your appointments and get appropriate treatment as suggested.

Eating Dark Chocolate Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

If the Easter Bunny dropped off some chocolate treats for you this past weekend, don’t worry about indulging in this most crave-worthy food.

The results of a German study indicate that eating the sweet stuff may help to lower the risk of developing heart disease.

The study followed approximately 20,000 participants between the ages of 35-65. Each person’s blood pressure was checked, and their height and weight were noted. They were also asked to complete a questionnaire with questions about their health.

Questions About Chocolate

The study participants were asked how often they ate a 50 gram bar of chocolate. The entire group of participants weren’t asked whether they usually ate milk chocolate, dark chocolate or white chocolate, but a smaller sampling of 1,568 participants were asked to write down their chocolate intake over a 24-hour period.

Milk chocolate was the most popular choice, with 57 percent choosing this type. Dark chocolate lovers accounted for 24 percent of the sample and white chocolate was consumed by 2 percent of the smaller group.

Every two or three years, the participants were sent a follow-up survey. The participants were asked whether they had experienced a heart attack or a stroke. Death certificates for participants who had died were examined to gather information about the cause of death.

Chocolate Good for Your Heart

The results of the study were published in the European Heart Journal and revealed that the participants who ate 7.5 grams of chocolate per day had a lower risk of having a heart attack or a stroke than the participants who didn’t eat chocolate regularly.

The magic ingredient in chocolate that offers this health benefit is the flavanols in cocoa.  Dark chocolate has a higher concentration of this substance, and is more effective at increasing the amount of nitric oxide in the walls of the blood vessels. Dr. Brian Buijsse of the German Institute of Human Nutrition explained, “Nitric oxide is a gas that, once released, causes the smooth muscle cells of the blood vessels to relax and widen; this may contribute to lower blood pressure. Nitric oxide also improves platelet function, making the blood less sticky.”

Whatever the reason, eating a couple of squares of dark chocolate per day is good for your heart. Just be sure to watch your intake so that you don’t gain weight while trying to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Cutting Saturated Fats Alone Will Not Protect Against Heart Disease

Lowering consumption of saturated fats is supposed to help protect against heart disease. Saturated fats are animal fats, and are found in red meat, bacon, butter, cheese and other foods. If your goal is to lower your risk of heart disease by cutting back on saturated fats, be careful what you replace them with.

If you replace saturated fats in your diet with carbohydrates, you will not significantly lower your risk of developing heart disease. A much better, and healthier, strategy is to make a point of eating more polyunsaturated fats by increasing your intake of fish, vegetable oils and nuts.

This strategy can help to lower your risk by up to a very impressive 19 percent.

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, co-director of the Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in Boston, Massachusetts, explains: “Saturated fat is not so bad for you that you can replace it with anything and get [a] benefit. The replacement matters.”
nuts and heart health
Dr. Mozaffarian and his team of researchers analyzed data collected from eight clinical trials involving 13,000 participants who replaced the saturated fat they were consuming with polyunsaturated fat. For every five percent in total calories the participants increased their consumption of polyunsaturated fats, their risk of heart disease decreased by 10 percent.

According to Dr. Mozaffarian, “With all the focus on fat and saturated fat and cholesterol, we’ve put a lot of junk in our diet instead. What a person needs to do is to eat the appropriate amount of calories, and eat a healthy, balanced diet.”

Low IQ Increases Risk of Heart Disease

Does the amount of gray matter that a person has influence their risk of  heart disease? According to the results of a study conducted by Britain’s Medical Research Council (BMRC), having a low IQ is strongly linked to heart disease. Surprisingly, the results indicate that a person’s level of intelligence is second only to smoking when it comes to risk factors for the No. 1 killer of North Americans.

The study, which was published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention, followed 1,145 men and women over a 20-year period. All of the participants are currently in their mid-fifties. According to the BMRC study, the top five risk factors for heart disease are:

  1. Smoking
  2. IQ
  3. Low Income
  4. High Blood Pressure
  5. Lack of Physical Activity

These results are very interesting, to say the least. It’s possible that a person with a lower IQ may not fully understand the steps they should be taking to stay healthy. Another explanation for the results of the study is that individuals who perform better in school have better employment prospects. There is a link between income levels and overall health, with more affluent people having fewer health issues than those who have limited means.

Lack of access to health care may explain why people who have lower incomes are at higher risk for heart disease. Not all employers offer health insurance, and the cost of getting coverage may be a barrier to seeing a doctor for preventive care. Chronic stress and depression may be more common for this segment of the population. Processed foods may be less expensive for those who must stick to a strict budget at the grocery store, and consuming items that are higher in sugar, salt and fat are not the most healthy choices in our diet.

National Wear Red Day Puts Focus on Women and Heart Disease

February is not only Valentine’s Day month, but it has also been declared Women’s Heart Disease Awareness Month. Since the risk of breast cancer is in the media often, you may be thinking that it is the Number 1 killer for women, but that is not true.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people in North America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 631,636 people died from this condition in 2006. About half of them were women.

Whether you choose to wear red on Friday (February 5) to show your support for women and heart disease in this way, there are things you can do to lower your risk of being another statistic. I know it’s not New Year’s Day, but why don’t you make a resolution to start taking better care of your heart, starting right now?

You may not have any say about the genetic factors that affect your risk of heart disease, but you do have choices about what you eat. Start by reading labels so that you are aware of what you are consuming. Most processed foods are full of fat, salt and sugar and all of these ingredients consumed in excess are harmful to your heart. The advice about buying your groceries from the aisles located around the perimeter of the store is true. That’s where you find fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy products and whole grain products.

Women tend to put themselves at the bottom of the list when it comes to looking after themselves, and in this case, it is a matter of life and death. If you want to do something for yourself this Valentine’s Day, decide that you love yourself enough to look after your health and reduce your risk of becoming a number when it comes to women and heart disease.

Ex-Smokers Putting Their Health at Risk Through Weight Gain

We all know by now that smoking increases the risk of heart disease. Despite the warnings that we have heard, kicking the cigarette habit can be challenging for many people. It’s not a question of lack of will power; the problem stems from the fact that nicotine is a highly-addictive substance.

The cravings that a person who tries to quit smoking goes through are very real, and many people who manage to give up cigarettes find that they gain weight afterward. This may be caused by the fact that food tastes better after giving up the habit or perhaps the ex-smoker eats more in an effort to keep their mouth busy without lighting up again. Whatever the reason, gaining weight after giving up smoking may mean trading one risk factor for heart disease for another.

Being overweight increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, so the person who is planning to quit smoking needs to have a plan for keeping his or her weight under control.
fruits, vegetables, fiber
One way to do so is to plan meals and snacks carefully after butting out.

A person who is hungry can learn to think about whether they want to eat something sweet, crunchy, or chewy and then having healthy options readily available. When the craving is for something sweet, look to fresh fruits or low-fat yogurt to satisfy the craving. Carrot and celery sticks can be prepared in advance and stored in the refrigerator for times when something crunchy would hit the spot. Raisins or prunes are chewy, and add fiber to the diet.

A person who has decided to quit smoking has already made a very positive decision about his or her health. It needs to be followed up with another one about making a strategy to avoid weight gain afterward.

Watching TV Increases Risk of Heart Disease

Do you remember your mother telling you that watching too much television wasn’t good for you? It appears as thought Mom may have been on to something. A group of researchers from Australia have found that every hour that a person spends watching TV increases a person’s chance of dying from cardiovascular disease by 18 percent!

TV watching isn’t the problem, exactly. It’s the act of sitting down to watch it that’s to blame. Many people spend their lives moving from one chair to another instead of having a healthy, active lifestyle. The conclusion the researchers came to was that too much sitting is not good for one’s health.

If you ever needed a reason to switch off the television and get off the couch, you’ve got one now. Instead of watching television for hours on end, find activities to do that will get your heart rate up and keep it there for several minutes at a time. Joining a gym is one option, but there are many others available.

Winter sports can be very enjoyable and are a great way to stay in shape. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking are all options. Skating is an activity that people of all ages can enjoy.

People who are interested in participating in a team sport during the winter months may want to consider joining a curling league. There are teams available for people who are just learning the sport, as well as those who are experienced players.

It’s great exercise and a way to meet some new friends, as well.

Warmer temperatures mean that there are more opportunities to get active. Jogging, cycling and swimming are all activities that can help to keep the heart healthy and lower the risk of heart disease. Basketball, volleyball and tennis are ways to stay fit while participating in activities with other people.

If you have been relying on watching television as a way to fill in your leisure time, perhaps it’s time to shut it off and make a positive change in your lifestyle.