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 haveĀ 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.

Are Energy Drinks Safe?

Energy drinks are being promoted as a safe and easy way to give your energy a boost when you feel sluggish. They are popular with young people who may be putting in long hours at work or school. These products are marketed as a way to increase stamina and improve performance.

Main Ingredients of Energy Drinks

Caffeine is one of the main ingredients of energy drinks. As anyone who enjoys their morning cup of Joe understands, this substance helps to increase alertness. It does so by acting on the nervous system, which increases the speed at which it delivers messages to and from the brain.

Another main ingredient of energy drinks is taurine. This is a naturally-occurring amino acid that helps the body to increase protein and get rid of harmful substances. When someone is stressed or engaging in strenuous exercise, they may lose taurine and may choose to consume energy drinks to replace it.

Glucuronolactone is another substance that is naturally found in the body. It is formed when glucose breaks down. Not only does it help to flush out impurities, but it gives an instant energy boost as well.

Use Caution

It may be tempting to grab an energy drink when you are feeling sluggish or you want to give your energy a boost. Although they contain some ingredients that occur in the body naturally, the energy drink contains them at higher levels a person would have in his or her system.

An energy drink can contain as much caffeine as a strong cup of coffee. Some of the product labels caution against giving them to children, while others don’t contain this warning. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable pouring a youngster a cup of coffee, then you probably shouldn’t allow them to consume energy drinks.

Energy drinks can also contain high levels of sugar; some brands contain 5 teaspoons per serving. The link between sugar, processed foods and heart disease is well known. Some people consume several of these beverages on a daily basis, which can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease.

Do not confuse energy drinks with sports drinks, such as Gatorade. A sports drink contains carbohydrates and electrolytes and can help an athlete rehydrate quickly. An energy drink that contains caffeine act as a diuretic and actually increases the level of dehydration in the body.

Energy drinks are safe if used in moderation and on an occasional basis. If your goal is to feel more alert and increase your performance, a better choice (and healthier) choice is to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and get enough sleep.

Cut Back on Sugary Soft Drinks and Lower Risk of Heart Disease, Diabetes

Many people enjoy soft drinks, especially in hot weather. These beverages are an effective way to quench one’s thirst and taste good, besides. Unfortunately, regular sodas and sport drinks are also laced with high levels of sugar.

Choosing to drink them regularly not only increases an individual’s risk of heart disease, but it also means that person is more likely to develop diabetes. These sugary beverages are also laden with calories and contribute to weight gain and obesity.

Does this mean that no one should ever drink soft drinks? No, it doesn’t. If knowledge is power, then knowing that sugary drinks are not the most healthy choice means that consumers can make informed decisions about whether they want to drink them or not.

A good decision about soft drinks would be to choose more healthy beverages more often and relegate soda to an occasional treat. Even people who consume only a single serving of a sugary soft drink per day are putting themselves at a higher level of risk for a heart attack or diabetes.

Pure fruit juices don’t affect the body in the same way and are a better choice. Drinking water is probably one of the best decisions that a person can make for themselves. Most people don’t drink enough water, and this beverage helps to keep the body well hydrated and flush out impurities without any added sugar or caffeine.

A well-established soda habit may be hard to give up, and like all positive lifestyle changes, it’s best to start by making small ones first. It’s probably unrealistic to expect that someone can make a decision that they will never again allow a sugary soft drink to pass their lips, but they can slowly cut back on their consumption. Eventually sugary beverages like these can be relegated to the “treat” category instead of something that is consumed regularly.

Want to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease? Get a Pet

Having a pet has definite advantages when it comes to your health. They provide companionship and give their owners a reason to smile. The unconditional love and acceptance that animals provide is something that can’t be duplicated.

The results of a study conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) point to pet ownership as being good for the owner’s heart. The Institute looked at 400 people who had experienced a heart attack. The people who owned dogs were less likely to die as a result of the event than those who didn’t own one.

A second study looked at whether people who own dogs exercise more than than people who don’t own pets. The results indicated that dog owners got more exercise and were less likely to be obese.go for a walk

The third study that the NIH surveyed 200 married couples. It found that pet owners generally had lower blood pressure and heart rates. They also found it easier to deal with stressful situations that came up in their lives.

Not only does pet ownership lower the risk of heart disease, but it helps to beat stress and reduces the likelihood of getting headaches. Pet owners are also less likely to become depressed.

Before You Adopt a Pet

Owning a pet brings with it a big responsibility. Although there are definite benefits to owning an animal, the decision to bring an animal into your home should be made for the right reasons. They require regular care for life, including feeding/watering, grooming and exercise.

Pets also need the company of their humans and if your lifestyle is not conducive to spending time with the pet regularly, it may not be the right choice for you. You can still interact with animals and do some good by volunteering at the local animal shelter. That way, you are getting the benefits that come with interacting with an animal without having to commit to full-time ownership.

Not All Obese People are at Risk for Heart Disease

Carrying extra pounds is one of the risk factors for heart disease. People who are overweight or obese are encouraged by their loved ones and their doctor to get and maintain a healthy weight to improve heart health, but does everyone who is carrying excess pounds need to do so?

Not necessarily, according to the results of a study conducted by Dutch researchers. The University Medical Center in Groningen’s Dr. Andre van Beek stated that overweight people who are “metabolically healthy” are not at a higher risk for heart disease.

Metabolically Healthy

A metabolically healthy obese person is an individual whose medical history doesn’t include any of the following:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol or triglycerides
  • Stroke

They are in the minority, though, making up less than seven percent of the 1,325 obese people whose medical records were examined as part of the study.
Lowering Risk for Heart Disease

Since the majority of people who are overweight are at a higher risk of heart disease, losing weight can be part of a plan to reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular issues. Rather than trying to do so by going on a crash diet, a much better (and healthier) approach is to make a plan for slow, steady weight loss.

The weight didn’t go on overnight, and it’s not realistic to expect that it will come off that quickly. Following a balanced diet that is high in fiber and low in fat can help to get to and maintain a healthy weight. Along with a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise should be part of the plan, too.

Before starting an exercise program, a person should see a doctor. Starting off slowly will help to make being more physically active part of a lifestyle change, as opposed to a temporary measure designed to get the weight off only. If an individual goes back to his or her original eating habits after losing weight, the weight is likely to creep back up again.

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.

Processed Meat Linked to Heart Disease

Do you enjoy eating cold cuts and other types of processed meats? The results of a study conducted by researchers in the United States may make you want to rethink this part of your diet. Eating foods like bacon, sausage and hot dogs regularly can increase your risk of heart disease by 42 percent.

The Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) compiled information taken from 1,600 studies conducted around the world that included approximately 1.2 million people. The results indicated that eating a single hot dog or one or two slices of deli meats daily was enough to make the risk of heart disease jump.

The salt and preservatives used in preparing these foods may be the real reason why these foods aren’t the healthiest choices. High levels of sodium have already been linked to heart disease.

Eating non-processed meats doesn’t appear to carry the same level of risk for heart health. If you enjoy red meat, you can include lean cuts in your diet. Choose healthier cooking methods, like baking, broiling or grilling, more often. You can also make a point of trimming excess fat off before cooking.

Chicken or turkey can also be part of a heart-healthy diet. If you like hamburgers, try adding some variety to your table by picking up some ground turkey and making turkey burgers instead? You may want to add some spices to the meat before cooking to jazz up the patties, since the turkey can be a little bland on its own.

Once the turkey burgers are cooked, serve them on whole wheat buns. Feel free to garnish with some relish, onion, lettuce and tomato for a tasty sandwich that the whole family can enjoy.

You can still eat processed meats occasionally without increasing your risk of developing heart disease. According to the results of the study, eating these types of foods once a week or so won’t lead to heart problems. Keep them in mind for an occasional treat instead of including them in your daily diet if you want to be good to your heart.

Working Overtime? You Could be Damaging Your Heart

If you have been thinking that spending too much time at work could be bad for your heart health, you may be right. The results of a study conducted on British civil servants indicate that working overtime can increase the risk of cardiac issues.

The results, which were published in the European Heart Journal, followed 10,000 people, found that the government workers who worked more than three hours longer than the standard seven-hour workday had a 60 percent higher risk of having a non-fatal heart attack or angina, or developing heart disease.

The reason working long hours and increased risk of heart disease are related may be due to increased stress involved in spending more time on the job. A person who puts in long hours at work may be a Type A personality. This type of person is already aggressive, highly competitive and impatient, and is probably a good candidate for heart problems. It makes sense that the risk of heart disease, heart attack and angina are linked to someone who puts in a lot of time on the job.

Chronic stress is not healthy for anyone, and working long hours, either to complete special projects or because workers have a higher workload due to cutbacks, leads to other habits that don’t promote good health.

Eating on the run may mean going for fast food over a healthier choice, and working long hours may mean that the employee is not getting enough sleep. Neither of these scenarios contribute to good heart health.

While some overtime may be required for certain positions, if a person finds they are expected to burn the midnight oil regularly, it may be a good idea to update the resume and start putting out feelers for another job. The idea of work/life balance is an important one, and it appears that it is essential for good health.

High Carb Intake Linked to Heart Disease in Women

If you are a lady who likes her carbs, you may want to think about how much white bread, pizza and rice you are eating. Foods with a high sugar content can also increase your risk of heart disease, according to the results of a new study. The good news is that eating pasta doesn’t appear to increase the risk of developing heart disease.

The research was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, and scientists have concluded that eating foods with a high glycemic index, such as white bread, cause a woman’s blood sugar to rise rapidly. The spike in blood sugar levels can damage the heart.

Men process carbohydrates in a different way, and don’t have the same health risks when they consume foods with a high glycemic index. What should you be eating for good heart health?

Start by choosing whole grains more often. Switch to 60 percent whole wheat bread and once you get used to its taste, try 100 percent whole wheat. If you like to eat cereal, read the labels to find brands made from whole grains, as opposed to the ones with a high sugar content. Buy brown rice instead of the white variety.

Adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet is another strategy that is good for your heart. Fruits do contain carbs, but since they are absorbed by the body less quickly than foods made with white flour, they don’t increase the risk of heart disease. Again, you can start by making some simple changes to your diet, such as eating fruit at breakfast or eating a salad at lunch or dinner more often.

You are more likely to stick with the positive changes you are making to your eating habits if you start slowly. Even making one small change at a time will pay off over the long term.