Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States today. There are many types of heart disease, such as coronary artery disease, which causes blockages in the arteries leading to the heart muscle; angina pectoris, which is a lack of blood supply to the heart; and cardiomyopathy, which is damaged heart muscle.
Some of the most common causes of heart disease are cholesterol, oxidative stress, infections, and high levels of homocysteine. These factors lead to clogging of the arteries, which basically cuts off the oxygen supply to the heart. If you are shoveling snow vigorously, after awhile your arms start to ache and you rest so you can recover. This aching is caused by a lack of oxygen in your shoveling muscles. Your heart needs oxygen also, and when it doesn’t get enough, the ache is a heart attack.
Cholesterol builds up plaque deposits in your arteries, effectively narrowing them and cutting off the oxygen supply. Unchecked free radicals, which form naturally in the body, will cause oxidative stress on the heart muscle. Unattended infections cause inflammation and an erratic immune system, which leads to heart disease. Homocysteine, a naturally occurring compound, in excess damages blood vessels. Usually a deficiency of certain B vitamins leads to abnormal homocysteine levels.
Keeping your arteries clean is the best way to prevent a heart attack. This can be accomplished by making certain lifestyle changes. Reduce your risk factors by getting ample physical exercise, keeping your cholesterol levels in the proper range through diet, and not smoking.
You can also protect your arteries through diet. Ideally, your diet should consist of moderate amounts of fatty foods like beef and pork, while taking advantage of lean foods like fish and poultry. You need adequate amounts of protein, which is determined by your body mass. An average recommended amount is 60 grams daily. Limit your carbohydrates to non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens. Vegetables are a powerful source of anti-oxidants to defeat free radicals. Drink plenty of water and go easy on alcoholic beverages.
Physical exercise is imperative for a healthy heart. It can be as simple as a vigorous walk each day or a moderate weight-lifting program. If you smoke, please find a way to stop. Smoking accelerates plaque build up in the arteries.
Tests are performed to diagnose heart diseases, such as stress tests on a treadmill, electrocardiograms to visualize the heart in action, chest x-ray, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Nuclear testing, which uses a safe radioactive tracer in your veins, releases energy, and special cameras outside the body detect blood flow, and damaged heart muscle.
NEW ADVANCES IN TREATMENT:
Minimally invasive direct artery bypass (MIDCAB) uses a small incision in the chest and a tiny video camera, which does not require stopping the heart during surgery.
Transmyocardial revascularization (TMR) is for patients who cannot undergo bypass surgery. It uses lasers to place small “channels” in the heart, essentially creating new vessels for blood to flow through freely.
Enhanced external counterpulsation (EECP) is a non-invasive treatment. Small bag-like blood pressure cuffs are placed around the legs, and then inflated and deflated simultaneously with the hearts rhythm. It reduces angina pain and need for nitroglycerin in patients with CAD.
The fate of your heart health is in your hands. Pay particular attention to your diet, get plenty of physical exercise, and avoid tobacco. Have your blood cholesterol levels tested annually. A good lifestyle will provide you with a longer and healthier life.
Mark Hyman, M.D. and Mark Liponis, M.D., Ultra-Prevention (New York: Scribner, 2003)
William Joel Meggs, M.D., The Inflammation Cure (New York: McGraw-Hill,2004)