Preventing Heart Disease and Stroke

Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease is one of the biggest killers in developed nations, accounting for around a third of all deaths. The scary thing about these deaths is though that they’re almost all sudden and premature. They’re also preventable for the most part. What can you do to reduce your risk of falling victim to this killer disease?

The first step – as obvious as it may sound – is to take responsibility for your health. For many people, this is impossible to accomplish. Ignorance and misinformation is your biggest enemy: you can’t fight against something when you do not know about its existence. Educate yourself, be aware of your own personal risk-profile and know what sort of moves you need to make to deflate it. Diabetes for instance, increases the risk of heart disease quite radically.

According to experts, age is the most influential risk factor though. The older one is, the more at-risk he/she is in regards to heart disease and stroke. The sad thing is that there is not much you can do about this risk factor, but simply being aware of it is indeed very important. Genetics is the next most important step. While obtaining a proper genomic profile is out of reach for just about everyone, studying family health history can go a long way towards providing an accurate-enough idea regarding genetic predisposition. Knowing your risk profile will allow you to manage it, by doing your best to avoid risk factors over which you do indeed have actual control.

Not smoking and staying away from second-hand smoke will allow you to drastically lower your risk of cardiovascular problems. Not only do you tackle heart disease this way, you will also stave off lung disease, stroke, and various problems of the peripheral vascular system. Smoking is notoriously bad for everything concerning the blood vessels, and its malicious effects reverberate throughout the organism in a huge number of shapes and forms. The actual risk reduction attributed to not smoking is an estimated 36%, as far as heart disease is concerned.

Keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level is another measure you should absolutely take. High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because its symptoms are undetectable in most people. It ravages the delicate lining of your blood vessels and in time, it leads to various problems, including stroke and heart disease. The interesting thing about monitoring blood-pressure is that according to experts, it is best done at home. Some people experience what’s known as “white coat hypertension” which means that their blood-pressure spikes when it’s measured at the doctor’s. Others exhibit abnormally low blood pressure when in the presence of medical personnel. The bottom line is that in regards to practical data, home blood pressure readings are most relevant. For this purpose, it is recommended that you use upper-arm devices and not finger or wrist units.

Monitoring blood lipids (cholesterol) is another practice you should make routine, especially if your overall risk profile is high. In regards to cholesterol, we’re talking about a balancing act between LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol. What you want in this regard is to lower your LDL levels as much as possible, while raising your HDL at the same time. Cholesterol levels are influenced by the following factors: age, amount produced by the liver, and amount absorbed from the intestinal tract (most of which is secreted and released into the intestines by the liver). The ideal cholesterol ratio is total amount/HDL=3. Diet therapy can be used to correct cholesterol levels to a certain degree. Drug therapy is usually needed for more severe imbalances.

Obesity is a major contributing factor in the onset of heart disease and stroke. This problem can be tackled in several ways: on one hand, you will have to monitor and limit your calories. On the other, you will have to introduce/re-introduce exercise into your daily routine. Obesity, which has taken near-epidemic proportions, has lead to an explosion in diabetes. Diabetes itself is a cardio-vascular disease, and it increases one’s risk of heart attack to a level similar to that experienced by people who already had a heart attack. How can you decrease your caloric intake? Portion control is a good step in the right direction, as is the use of so called “slim drinks” such as water, tea and coffee.

The introduction of exercise is not only easy, it delivers benefits on multiple health-fronts. In addition to its cardio vascular benefits, it is one of the best treatments for anxiety and depression. In order to have a tangible impact on body-weight, exercise should always come hand-in-hand with proper diet changes. How do you know whether or not your body-weight is a problem in regards to heart disease and stroke? High waist-to-hip ratios tell the story pretty well. In order to be certain you aren’t over the mark in this respect, make sure your waistline stays under 37 inches (if you’re a man) and under 35 inches (if you’re a woman).

Limiting your intake of alcoholic beverages is always a good idea as well. Proper reduction in this regard has been linked with a significant (11%) drop in heart disease risk. Keeping with this line of thought, it has to be noted that the impact of daily physical exercise is apparently only a relatively mild 3% reduction in this sense.

Choosing your medication wisely is also a big part of the overall heart disease and stroke control package. People are often driven to taking various alternative medicines by powerful marketing mechanisms which push such products to the forefront. Believing that something is healthful because it’s natural, is fundamentally wrong. Mind you, that with rare exceptions, alternative medicines and vitamins have not been proven to help with cardiovascular diseases in any shape or form.

Last but not least, we have to bring stress into the picture. Stress is a major factor in the development of various cardiovascular conditions, and – if severe enough – it can indeed lead to heart attacks and sudden death. Exercise is a great way to deal with stress, as is proper sleep and a generally well-balanced life.

Always try to stay well informed and on top of the constantly changing medical recommendations and developments. Never before has healthcare seen such rapid evolution. New concepts, new solutions and new advice come up all the time. Select your sources of information wisely, be objective and heed scientifically-backed advice only.

Heart disease prevention isn’t a simple matter of exercising more or flipping some kind of switch somewhere. To effectively address the issue, one needs to go through a lifestyle change, covering everything from nutrition, to an array of supplements that have been scientifically proven to promote heart health.

Diet is where prevention really begins. Without proper diet, none of the other measures one can take are as efficient as they should be. Eating well is unfortunately not something everyone can afford, but as much as possible, try to stick to these guidelines for optimal nutrition and heart health.

Eating more fish will cut your heart attack and stroke risk, while providing essential nutrients such as high-quality protein and omega 3 fatty acids. At least two servings of fish per week are recommended by the American Heart Association. Keep in mind though that fish may be contaminated with heavy metals such as mercury, and therefore nuts and seeds would be a better alternative. I recommend eating at least 30 grams or a quarter cup of nuts and seeds per day, as well as a tablespoon of freshly ground flax seeds, and an omega-3 rich algal oil supplement.

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Adding plant-foods to your diet is always a good idea. Beans, fruits, whole grains, as well as foods and vegetables, all fall into this category. Such foods provide fiber as well as a host of vitamins, trace elements and essential nutrients.

As a general direction, one’s diet should be aimed towards lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and promoting HDL (good) cholesterol. The above said foods can in fact trigger a modest increase in HDL cholesterol levels, but to lower LDL cholesterol, it is recommended that one steer clear of trans fats. Snack foods, animal products (including meat and dairy), refrigerated dough, frozen pizza, baked goods and various fast foods are all rich in trans fats. They should obviously be completely cut from a healthy diet.

Saturated fat – which comes in the shape of fried foods, sweets, hard margarine, salad dressing and deserts – should be avoided to a certain degree as well. In fact, in this regard, you should make sure that you do not get more than 7-10% of your calorie intake in this form. Sometimes fats simply cannot be avoided. What you can do in such cases though is to use fats with high monounsaturated and polyunsaturated content. Peanut oil, olive oil and canola are such fat sources. Make sure though that you do not use too much of such “good” fats either.

Salt is one of the great enemies of the cardio vascular system, and its threat is even greater given its ubiquitous nature. Cutting back on salt is a must for everyone looking to follow a heart health-promoting diet. Packaged foods are sodium bombs, so steering well clear of them makes perfect sense in this regard.

Last but not least, you should focus on protein, more precisely on a diverse range of protein-rich foods, mostly various beans and nuts. Protein is the building block of living matter, so you need it. You just need to make sure you get high quality protein and you get it fat-free as much as possible.

High quality, healthful food is also much more enjoyable for most people, so in this regard, sticking to your diet should in fact be easier indeed.

While we’re never the advocates of taking supplements just for the heck of it, if you’re really looking to boost your cardiovascular health, you may want to consider including some supplements in your daily routine. What you need in this regard are supplements the bioactive components of which have a positive impact on as many heart disease risk factors as possible. Obviously, there are scores of such compounds and supplements out there, but you should only limit yourself to those that have solid, medically recognized, evidence-based research backing them up. While taking such supplements, you should always keep a close eye on your cholesterol levels. This way, you will be able to curtail a regimen if its impact turns out to be harmful in anyway, while fine-tuning your dosage for optimal response.

Algal oil is perhaps the best heart supplement. A superb omega 3 source, its health-promoting effects reach way above and beyond the cardiovascular system. Omega-3 oil fights diabetes too, which – in turn – represents a major heart disease risk factor. Unlike most heart health-oriented supplements, it also protects against coronary artery disease, and various afflictions of the joints, due to its anti-inflammatory effects. Apparently, taking just 300mg of an EPA and DHA oil per day, is enough to trigger some of its positive effects. For better results, specialists recommend a doses of 2,000-3,000 mg per day.

Lecithin is another supplement with a wide range of benefits. The bioactive compounds which lend it its “punch” are the choline and the phospholipids which are found in abundance in lecithin. According to a number of studies, lecithin supplementation induces a small drop in the levels of bad cholesterol, so it’s fair to say that as far as heart disease is concerned, its effects are quite limited. Choline promotes cognitive function and memory though, while acting as a precursor to an important neurotransmitter.

Phytosterols (plant sterols) have been shown to reduce bad cholesterol levels too. Apparently, phytosetrols act by deceiving the digestive system, prompting it to eliminate dietary cholesterol. According to some 41 trials which matched phytosterols against placebo, a reduction of 10% in bad cholesterol levels was registered. Phytosterols are currently recommended by the American Heart Association and the National Cholesterol Education Program, as efficient for the lowering of bad cholesterol levels, above and beyond what other similar-purpose medications can accomplish.

Policosanol is a compound which is also used to reduce circulating cholesterol levels. It is obtained from sugar cane wax, and – according to a surprisingly large number of studies – it impacts bad cholesterol levels in rather spectacular fashion: a daily dose of just 5-40 mg, used over a period of 30 days, has lowered LDL levels by 24%.

Lycopene is yet another natural compound which exerts spectacular preventive effects over a large variety potential diseases and ailments. Most handily derived from tomatoes, lycopene is a powerful antioxidant, and as such, it fights free radical damage. A high concentration of lycopene in one’s bloodstream has also been linked with a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. By extension, it has been found that men with low lycopene levels in their system are 3 times more prone to developing some kind of coronary problem or stroke.

Hawthorn extract is a vasodilator and as such, it is highly efficient at reducing blood-pressure. This characteristic has been proven in a group highly vulnerable to various cardiovascular events: diabetes patients.

In addition to the above, arginine, niacin, garlic and L-carnitine have also made the list of benefic cardio vascular supplements, for various reasons.

People prone to developing various heart and coronary artery conditions are always advised to keep a close watch on various physiological indicators. Cholesterol levels and blood pressure should always be monitored, together with blood glucose. Fortunately, the development of a wide range of medical gadgets and instruments has made the monitoring of these factors simple, from the comfort of one’s own home.

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