Avoiding Heart Disease

By Drs. Robert Goldman, M.D., Ph.D.

and Ronald Klatz, M.D., D.O.

Heart disease refers to a number of abnormal conditions affecting the heart and the blood vessels in it. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease and is the leading cause of heart attacks. When you have CAD, your arteries become hard and narrow. Blood has a hard time getting to the heart, so this vital organ doesn’t get all the blood it needs.

According to the Pan American Health Organization, heart disease is a major public-health problem that is responsible for one third of annual global deaths and one tenth of the global disease burden. The World Health Organization reports that coronary heart disease is now the leading cause of death worldwide. It is on the rise and has become a true pandemic that respects no borders. All totaled, 3.8 million men and 3.4 million women worldwide die each year from coronary heart disease.

The World Health Organization also reports that while genetic factors play a part, 80 to 90 percent of people dying from coronary heart disease have one or more major risk factors that are influenced by lifestyle. Thus, preventive measures may indeed delay the onset of heart disease. In this article, we present potential preventive strategies for consideration.

The New Numbers to Know. It’s not enough to know your cholesterol level. While cholesterol is the molecule responsible that causes fatty buildups inside arteries, scientists now suspect that it is only part of the portrait of heart disease. Inflammation, which can weaken blood vessels and cause cholesterol plaques to loosen and create blockages, is the new marker. Insist that your doctor test your C-reactive protein (CRP), which should be at or below 8 micrograms/milliliter (anti-aging physicians would prefer it to be half that or lower). In addition, in women, elevated white blood cell counts may predict heart disease, reports a 2005 Women’s Health Initiative study. Levels at the upper-end of normal (6.7 billion white blood cells per liter of blood) may double a woman’s risk of heart attack.

Know the Signs. Worldwide, a substantial number of men and women who have coronary artery disease die within 28 days after experiencing symptoms; of these, two-thirds die before reaching a hospital. It is critical that everyone recognizes the warning signs of a heart attack, which may include:

•     Chest discomfort: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

•     Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: Can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

•     Shortness of breath: Often comes along with chest discomfort. But it also can occur before chest discomfort.

•     Other symptoms: May include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

If you feel you are experiencing heart attack symptoms, do not delay. Minutes matter! Call an ambulance (in Bali: 118). While waiting for it to arrive, chew one adult-strength (325 mg) aspirin tablet: Aspirin reduces the risk of death by up to 23 percent if administered when a heart attack is suspected, and for 30 days thereafter. The use of aspirin as a heart attack first aid could potentially save 10,000 lives each year in the US alone.

Dash for Life. Treating hypertension (high blood pressure) can reduce the risk of a stroke by up to 40 percent, reports the World Health Organization. High blood pressure (generally, 140/90 mm Hg or higher; however, anti-aging physicians aim for readings less than 120/80) is the most important risk factor for stroke. The US government’s Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet can help, providing menus low in salt and calories and high in nutrients. Consume a variety of nuts, seeds and beans, watch your intake of meats, poultry, and fish and expand your repertoire of vegetables. Go easy on processed foods, salty snacks and cured meats.

Eat Your Heart Out. Men and women with heart disease can reduce their likelihood of dying by up to 30 percent by enjoying a Mediterranean-style diet, reports a 2005 study co-authored by researchers at Harvard University and Athens Medical School. Opt for colorful vegetables (such as lycopene-rich tomatoes) and fruits (like antioxidant-rich red and purple grapes), cut your consumption of meat and dairy products and boost your consumption of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (such as olive oil and omega-3 rich foods like fish, soy, grains and green leafy vegetables).

Fit in When You’re Young. Young men and women who are fit (guys who are able to complete 10-12 minutes of treadmill exercise; gals who are able to complete 6-9 minutes of the same) are half as likely to develop high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, reports a study sponsored by the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. As side benefits, fit youths cut their risk of developing diabetes by 50 percent and tend to gain far less weight (as compared to their less-fit counterparts) over the long term.

Reports the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “A key strategy [for heart disease] is to educate the public and healthcare practitioners about the importance of prevention.” Lifestyle changes, including regular physical activity and proper diet, are critical ways in which you can manage your risk of developing heart disease.

Drs. Goldman and Klatz are the co-founders of the anti-aging medical movement and serve, respectively, as chairman and president of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of technology to detect, prevent and treat aging-related disease and to promote research into methods to retard and optimize the human aging process.

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