Like many of my patients, you may want to turn over a new, and healthy, leaf for 2011. As I tell my patients, one of the most important things you can do for your health is to know your risk factors for heart disease. Heart disease in America is still one of the number #1 killers. Being proactive in learning, and working to reduce, your risk factors will not only make you healthier but could save your life.
Risk Factors You Can Change
There are a handful of risk factors for developing heart disease, some of which you can modify, or eliminate, yourself, and others you cannot. Most of us have at least 1 risk for heart disease. Your chances of getting heart disease multiply with the number of risk factors you have. The risk factors you cannot change are:
➢ Age – the older you get, the higher your chances for heart disease.
➢ Heredity – if you have a history of heart disease in your immediate family.
➢ Gender – men are at highest risk for heart disease as are menopausal women.
Even within those risk factors that you cannot change, there are many things you can do to lower your risk of heart disease by eliminating other risk factors. These include:
➢ Smoking – the number #1 modifiable risk factor for smoking. If you smoke, QUIT.
➢ High cholesterol/triglycerides – high animal fat (meat, dairy) diet coupled with low antioxidant nutrients can lead to a buildup of plaque within arteries.
➢ Lack of Exercise – exercise strengthens the heart and muscles surrounding the arteries that help pump blood throughout the body. Also lowers weight and blood pressure.
➢ Drug/Alcohol Abuse – weakens heart muscle and causes irregular heart rhythms. Too much alcohol also causes higher triglyceride levels which builds dangerous plaques.
➢ Over-Stressed Lifestyle – too hectic lifestyles, lack of sleep, too much caffeine creates a high cortisol environment which stresses the heart and adrenal glands.
➢ Over fat – too high body fat percentage puts stress on the heart.
➢ Diabetes/Pre-Diabetes – though you may not be able to turn around diabetes, you can get it under control so that it is less a risk for you. Pre-diabetes can be treated and changed with diet, exercise, and perhaps medication, to prevent full-blown diabetes.
➢ High Blood Pressure – can lead to heart disease and/or stroke. Too high sodium intake, lack of sufficient water intake, kidney disease may cause HBP. May need medication.
What Can You Do To Modify Your Risk Factors?
Here are some things I recommend to my patients embarking on a new, healthier lifestyle:
1. Cardiac Workup. See your doctor to assess the following:
➢ Blood tests – cholesterol levels, HDL and LDL, triglycerides, hemoglobin A1c (for prediabetes), homocysteine, or C-reactive protein levels to assess your inflammatory marker risks in your arteries.
➢ Electrocardiogram – can show any abnormalities which may need monitoring.
➢ Weight – determine how much weight you may need to lose to be in safer ranges.
➢ Blood pressure – determine if your levels are high or borderline.
2. Diet Modification.
➢ Less Saturated Fat – limit saturated fats to 7% of total daily calories. Less animal fats like red meat and full-fat dairy.
➢ Limit/Eliminate Trans Fats – read labels and/or stay away from commercially fried foods like French fries or donuts. Stay within 1% total daily intake.
➢ More Monounsaturated Fats – from nuts and seeds like Brazil, almonds, pecans, walnuts, and sunflower seeds. These help raise good cholesterol and confer heart protection.
➢ Heart Healthy Supplements – Omega-3 fish oil and Omega-6 oils like olive and safflower oil; Co-Q10, resveratrol, folic acid, B vitamins, especially B3, B6 and B12, magnesium, Vitamin E, potassium, calcium.
➢ More Fruits and Vegetables: stick to low sugar fruits, 2 a day, and more vegetables, aim for 6-8 servings a day. These can include vegetable protein sources like legumes (beans and peas) that can also partially or completely replace animal proteins.
3. Limit Alcohol.
Moderate alcohol consumption has been shown in research to have a beneficial, protective effect on the heart, particularly red wine, or beer 1, 12 oz glass a day for women, or 2, 12 oz glasses for men. However, liqueurs, vodka, rum, gin, whiskey, have higher sugar content and tend to raise triglycerides. They usually are mixed with sugary soft drinks or concentrated sweet mixes. High triglycerides can build dangerous arterial plaques. Limit these drinks to 1-2 times a week.
4. Drugs/Substance Abuse.
Most of us know that recreational drugs can contribute to very poor health and even cause fatal heart attacks. However, some prescription drugs have side effects, which may affect your heart as well. Talk to your doctor about any prescription drugs that you think may be causing side effects.
I’m always happy to hear when my patients tell me they want to take positive steps to change their health for the better. As I tell them, making certain lifestyle changes, like those outlined above, can make a world of difference in reducing your risk of heart disease and other diseases as well. You’ll feel better, look better and by the time summer of 2011 rolls around, I’ll bet you’ll be feeling like you just signed a new, healthy lease on the rest of your life!
Photo Credit: Sura Nualpradid