The Pulse on Heart Health: 5 Facts That May Surprise You

The Pulse on Heart Health: 5 Facts That May Surprise You

Posted on 21. Sep, 2016 by in Articles, Heart Health

By Sara J. Carter

Heart disease remains the number-one cause of death among both men and women in the United States, accounting for nearly 25 percent of all deaths. In the U.S., someone has a heart attack every 32 seconds, and each minute someone dies of cardiovascular-related disease. Medical costs are $108.9 billion annually including health care services, medications, and lost productivity.

Did You Know?
1. 50 to 80 percent of heart disease is preventable with lifestyle choices.

In the 2014 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistic Update compiled by the American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health, the document cites the correlation between lifestyle choices and heart health. The percentage of cardiovascular death directly related to the following conditions are:

  • 40.6 percent for high blood pressure
  • 13.7 percent for smoking
  • 13.2 percent for poor diet
  • 11.9 percent for insufficient physical activity

As depicted, everyday choices play an important role in the health of our hearts, including diet, smoking, and exercise. In 2010, less than 1 percent of Americans met at least four of five healthy dietary goals. Among adults over 20 years of age, only 12 percent ate enough fruits and vegetables, 18 percent enough fish, 7 percent enough whole grains, and only 0.6 percent stayed within the limits of sodium intake.

In 2012, among Americans 18 years and older, 20 percent of men and 16 percent of women were regular cigarette smokers. That same year, 30 percent of American adults reported engaging in no aerobic leisure-time physical activity. It is estimated that 68 percent of adults and 32 percent of children are overweight and or obese. Obesity has a direct correlation to heart disease. While these statistics paint a bleak picture, everyone has the opportunity to make lifestyle changes and to create new habits.

2. You can have a heart attack and not even know it.

Most people that experience a heart attack know something isn’t right. They may feel chest discomfort, have cold sweats, or have extreme weakness in their limbs. But 20 to 30 percent may have uncommon symptoms, which can be confusing, or they may have no symptoms at all.

Silent heart attacks are even more common in older adults than heart attacks that immediately come to the attention of doctors and patients, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Unfortunately, they are equally as deadly.

The JAMA report is based on data from 936 men and women ages 67 to 93 from Iceland who agreed to undergo EKGs and MRIs to detect whether heart attacks had occurred. Results showed that silent heart attacks were twice as common among older patients than recognized heart attacks. Atypical indications include unexplained fatigue, shortness of breath, and discomfort in the throat, neck, jaw, or one extremity like an arm or leg. Some people may mistake what is happening for heartburn or the flu. There may be squeezing or tightness in the chest, often during exertion.

Ignoring symptoms is not advisable. Professionals recommend that any distinct change in how you feel, no matter how subtle, should be investigated.

3. Air pollution may increase the risk of heart disease and heart attack.

In 2013 the World Health Organization declared air pollution to be one of the world’s most dangerous environmental carcinogens. Cancer is far less common than cardiovascular disease. So what’s the connection?

A new gathering of evidence links air pollution to heart attacks and strokes. These studies indicate that air pollution not only worsens cardiovascular disease, but may also be a direct cause.

Tiny particles, so small that it would take 30 of them to equal the diameter of a human hair, are floating in the unhealthy gases in our air. Studies show these particles penetrate deep into the lungs, embedding in tissue and awakening a host of inflammatory responses. Researchers believe the inflammation extends to the circulatory system, in turn affecting the way blood vessels function.

A study by the National Institutes of Health followed 5,000 people aged 45 to 84 in six states for more than a decade. Findings show that an increased exposure to pollutants can be directly linked to narrowing of blood vessels. A 2013 publication in PLOS Medicine documented the correlation of air pollution and thickening of the arteries. When exposure to air pollution increased, so did the thickening. When air pollution levels dropped, thickening slowed.

Fortunately, several decades of clean air regulations in the United States have made an impact. There has been a recorded 35 percent drop in deaths and disabilities related to air pollution in the U.S. since 1990.

4. Skipping breakfast may increase coronary heart disease risk.

We’ve all heard the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that eating breakfast supports a healthy blood sugar balance, maintenance of a healthy weight, and better energy levels. There now may be another reason to grab a seat at the dining table early in the day.

In a 16-year study of 26,902 male health professionals ages 45 to 82 presented in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, those who reported they regularly skipped the first meal of the day had a 27 percent higher risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease than those that did not.

The correlation with the risk may be that skipping breakfast could lead to one or more other risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, which may precede heart disease. Starting the day with a healthy breakfast is just another step toward prevention.

5. C-reactive protein may be correlated to heart disease risk.

C-reactive protein (CRP) is a blood test marker for inflammation in the body. Its levels rise in response to inflammation in the body. This can be caused from burns, trauma, infections, or arthritis. There has been a recent association connecting CRP, swelling of the arteries, and heart disease.

Elevated CRP may be used as a predictor of heart disease, though traditional risk factors such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, age, cigarette smoking, obesity, and family history must still be considered.

There are no noticeable symptoms of elevated CRP. A blood test can indicate exactly where the inflammation is, whether it’s your heart or elsewhere.

Reduce Your Risk

Let’s review what we as individuals can do to diminish our risk of cardiovascular disease.

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet with adequate amounts of fish, nuts, lean protein, low-fat dairy, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy oils, and whole grains.
  • Maintain healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Quit smoking or tobacco use.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Limit sugar and sodium intake.

Supplementation can often be the final piece to a heart-healthy lifestyle. Many nutrients have been shown to have positive effects. These nutrients can be taken individually or in formulas created specifically to support cardiovascular wellness.

Fish Oil There has been extensive research documenting the benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil. Namely, omega-3 fatty acids produce anti-inflammatory compounds that may quell the inflammatory cascade in the body.

Improved heart rhythm and prevention of clot formation and plaque buildup in the arteries have been demonstrated with the use of marine fish oils. The American Heart Association recommends 1 gram or 1,000 mg of combined EPA and DHA for people with documented heart disease. For severely elevated triglyceride levels, they recommend 2 to 4 grams per day.

Vitamin D This nutrient actually acts as a hormone in the body. There are receptor sites for vitamin D in nearly every cell in the body, and it regulates hundreds of genes. A growing number of studies are citing vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for heart attacks, heart failure, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Many people are unknowingly deficient.

Magnesium This mineral is responsible for hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body. While found naturally in foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains, 75 percent of Americans are deficient in this important nutrient. Magnesium has been shown to regulate blood pressure and is required for the activity of the heart muscle and nerves that initiate a heartbeat.

Vitamin E Antioxidants help prevent disease by fighting free radicals, substances that can harm the body when not managed. Free radicals are formed naturally in the body by breathing, for example, but also from environmental contaminants like cigarette smoke. Antioxidants travel through the body squelching free radicals and preventing cell damage.

One type of cellular damage is the oxidation of fats, leading to fatty plaque buildup on artery walls. This can eventually slow or block blood flow to the heart. Vitamin E helps to gobble up the free radicals and protect the heart tissue. It also helps to recharge other antioxidants and works closely with CoQ10.

CoQ10 Coenzyme Q10 is found naturally in the body, but production diminishes with age. CoQ10 is a fat-soluble vitamin-like substance that works as an antioxidant protecting cell membranes and arteries from oxidative stress and inflammation. It also helps process nutrients we eat into cellular energy called ATP. ATP serves as an energy source to the cells and plays a large role in providing the heart muscle with the energy it needs to pump properly.

L-Carnitine Similar to CoQ10, L-carnitine acts as a transporter of energy, helping move fatty acids into the mitochondria (energy centers of our cells). This is very important as the heart uses 60 percent of its energy from fat sources. It also channels toxins out of the cells after they generate waste products. L-carnitine is found primarily in red meat, though the body does produce some on its own.

Ribose This simple five-carbon sugar is required for the production of ATP. This energy source for the cells assists in the heart muscle’s contraction. D-ribose aids in the recovery of ATP in the heart, which improves overall cardiac efficacy. D-ribose supplementation has been shown to increase heart muscle function following a heart attack and to improve blood pumping, delivering energy-rich blood to the heart and muscles.

A recent study in the Journal of American College of Cardiology concludes, “following a healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy weight and diet, exercise, not smoking, and moderating alcohol intake, could prevent four out of five coronary events in men.” This is promising given that lifestyle behavior can be modified with effort and a positive attitude. Here’s to a healthy and happy heart!

About the author:


- who has written 14 articles on Health e Times.

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