In 2014, it was reported that cardiovascular disease accounted for 27% of all deaths in the United Kingdom—only 2% less than cancer. This frightening statistic is compounded claims from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that ‘80% of premature heart attacks are preventable’ with a healthy diet and lifestyle. In this blog, I will unearth the facts about the causes of cardiovascular disease (CVD), the impacts and the simple—but effective—things you can do to prevent it.
But first, what is CVD?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the umbrella term for all diseases of the heart and circulatory system. This includes angina, congenital heart disease, coronary heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. The main culprit of coronary heart disease, angina, heart attacks and strokes is atherosclerosis, which is where arteries become narrowed due to damage, and thickened with increased deposits of substances such as cholesterol and calcium which form atherosclerotic plaques. The narrowing of arteries restricts blood flow to the heart and/or brain, with devastating effects.
There are several causes for CVD and its related diseases including smoking, high blood pressure (often caused by stress), diabetes, physical inactivity, being overweight, genetic inheritance and ethnicity. Interestingly, men are more likely to develop CVD at an earlier age than women, and both sexes have a higher risk of developing coronary heart disease as they age. This places great importance on everyone to get active and eat well sooner rather than later—but more on that shortly.
I’m sure the causes of CVD and its related diseases won’t come as much of a surprise. We are constantly told of the dangers of eating a fat-rich, high-sugar diet, of not exercising and placing too great a demand on our adrenal gland. The body has a certain capacity to negate the effects of a poor lifestyle, but it can only do so much. It tries its best, and often does an amazing job of managing the impact but eventually, the continual strain becomes too much, and soon enough you’re at the doctor’s being advised to make major lifestyle changes, or worse, on an operating table being forced to make the lifestyle changes, or even not given the opportunity because you’re six feet under. Too blunt? Possibly. Something you need to hear? Absolutely. CVD and its related illnesses are a serious and prevalent concern in today’s society, and something of which we should take note. So, what can you do?
Thankfully, the doom and gloom of the previous paragraph can be avoided by some simple lifestyle changes.
- Lose weight: As a population—and species—we are getting bigger. There is no way around it. Portion sizes have, in some cases, doubled, and the number of adults who are obese is now estimated at over 400 million. The link between obesity and heart disease may not seem obvious but it is strong. Being overweight has two significant effects on the body: it increases blood lipid concentration which inhibits proper insulin use, and it causes hypertension (high blood pressure)—both leading to heart disease. Losing weight can often negates these effects and gets your body running properly again.
- Reduce your sugar intake: Sugar is an energy-rich fuel, and any that is unused ends up stored as fat. As such, the excess consumption of sugar is a leading cause of weight-gain and obesity. By reducing your sugar intake, you can curb your weight gain and keep your heart healthy.
- Embrace healthy fats: Healthy fats are your heart’s best friend. They nourish, lubricate, help repair your tissue, and decrease internal inflammation. Healthy fat sources include avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds and butter. Low-fat diets starve your heart and brain of vital nutrients. Your brain is 60% fat and needs fat to keep all the neurons firing and stop forms of dementia from developing.
- Ditch inflammatory fats: Vegetable oils, hydrogenated oil, corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil and margarine cause inflammation of the blood vessels which can often cause heart issues. Swapping the inflammatory fats for the heart-healthy options outlined above is a good step towards reducing inflammation and fatty deposits in the arteries.
- Aim for balanced meals and snacks: When you aim to eat more healthy fat and fewer carbs, you’ll naturally begin to eat a good balance of protein, fat and complex carbs.
- Supplement to support your heart: CoQ10, Fish Oil, Probiotic and L-Glutamine supplements are the reinforcements your heart needs to stay healthy. All four help to reduce inflammation and provide the nutrients your body needs. CoQ10 is a heart-protective antioxidant that produces energy for every cell in our bodies. Vitamin D, magnesium and a comprehensive multivitamin could also be beneficial for good heart health.
- Destress: Stress increases your blood pressure and can cause damage to your arteries, create irregular heart rhythms, and cause weakened immunity. Be kind to your heart by taking time to breathe deeply throughout your day and find stress management strategies that work for you.
- Get your heart pumping: You don’t have to run a marathon to support your heart. It’s better for your heart (and metabolism) to do shorter, more efficient workouts such as interval training/HIIT, CrossFit style. Or even a daily walk in the sunshine will do your heart the power of good and boost your mood.
The simple, but sometimes challenging, changes outlined above can and will have a positive impact on your heart and overall health. The threat of CVD is not something to be taken lightly, and I would strongly advise beginning to look at your diet and lifestyle, and implement the necessary changes to stop you falling prey to this rampant and devastating condition.