HEART AWARENESS week is in February and it is an appropriate to kick off the new decade thinking about the health of this vital part of our body that claims more lives in NZ than any other disease.
The statistics from National Heart Foundation of NZ make alarming reading. Every hour someone in NZ dies prematurely of heart disease. Over the next twelve months approximately 12,000 NZ’ers will die from heart attack or stroke. Compare this with about 500 deaths from road accidents and about 400 deaths from breast cancer.
Also, one in three who die from heart disease will be under 70 years of age and for a quarter of these the first symptom or warning will be their own sudden death!
The heart really is a small, strong muscular chamber about the size of our clenched fist that is located on the left side of the chest protected by the rib cage. Its job is to recirculate our blood which carries oxygen and nutrients, around our body via the arteries. The veins return the blood back to the heart for oxygenation by the lungs. During an average 24 hour day this little pump moves enough blood to fill an average tanker. Hence the health of this ‘pump’ and its circulating channels, the arteries, is vitally important.
To maintain a ‘healthy’ heart it makes sense to think in terms of the condition of the heart muscle and the condition of the arteries. When the arteries get clogged with ‘fat’ called plaque; the blood flow to the heart muscle reduces, giving rise to symptoms of chest pain or angina.
With aging and hardening of the arteries, through a process called arteriosclerosis, the blood pressure in these circulating channels increase which increases the workload of the heart that can eventually contribute to ‘pump failure’!
One third of people who have a heart attack or stroke suffer from high blood pressure. Very often high blood pressure has no symptoms and is hence referred to as the ‘silent killer’. An ideal BP should be around 120/80. It is desirable to get blood pressure checked periodically from about 40 years of age so that it can be maintained at this level.
The most important fact to bear in mind is that this risk of heart disease can be minimised by controlling the risk factors even if a family history of heart disease is present.
The key factors are mainly lifestyle factors like smoking and dietary habits which also lead to obesity and diabetes.
SMOKING –doubles the risk of heart disease and a host of other disease. Smoking increases the heart rate and blood pressure and causes hardening of the arteries.
Thus smoking cessation is a very positive step towards reducing the risk of heart disease.
ALCOHOL – although there are many conflicting opinions regarding alcohol, the common consensus is that 1-2 standard drinks daily lowers the risk of heart disease. If your choice is red wine there is the additional antioxidant effect.
DIET – remember we are what we eat. By achieving the right balance in the diet you can greatly reduce the risks of developing heart disease and all other illnesses. In essence a healthy diet consists of large portions of vegetables, fruit and whole grain foods for carbohydrates and fish and seafood as a source of Omega 3 oils and protein. Diets are ideally individualised with the help of a trained health professional. At the Wellness Centre we can go a step further by individualising these diets according to the individual genetic profile with specific genetic testing.
EXERCISE – the benefits of exercise are many particularly for the cardiovascular system. It will increase the ability to pump blood, lowers BP and increases good cholesterol. Brisk walking for 30 minutes daily is adequate. People who do not exercise are twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who exercise on a regular basis.
MEDICATION – medications are useful for the reduction of blood pressure, cholesterol and the control of heart failure. Your doctor will be able to advise you of the best medication and dosage to achieve the desired benefit.
SUPPLEMENTS – there is increasing evidence that some supplements can be useful to help you heart. The key ones are:
Antioxidants – when the cholesterol in the plaque of our arteries becomes oxidised it can rupture and cause a heart attack. Antioxidants like Vitamins E & C, Selenium and CoQ10 can help prevent this.
Homocystein reducing vitamins – High levels of homocystein in the blood contributes to inflammation and narrowing of the arteries. Vitamins B6,B12 and Folic Acid can effectively control this.
Niacin – lowers levels of bad cholesterol and raises that of good. It’s use needs careful monitoring.
CoQ10 – is an essential nutrient in every cell of our body to produce energy. It is useful for treating ‘heart failure’ and to reduce the side effects of muscles aches with the statin drugs used for lowering cholesterol.
Fish Oils – people in communities which have high levels of fish in their diet tend to have a low incidence of heart disease. The Omega 3 oils have beneficial effects on blood clotting like aspirin, but also help in reducing triglycerides and irregular heart rhythms. Be careful with fish oil supplementation as the quality of the product is very important. Good fish oil should not ‘repeat’ itself and should be non-oxidised at manufacture and storage as it also contains no harmful PCB’s and mercury contamination.
So with a little bit of caution which includes no smoking, plenty of fish, fruits and vegetables combined with moving our bodies we can keep away from heart disease and all the long list of medications and live long enough to celebrate our lives!