Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for about 1/3 of all deaths, according to the World Health Organization. This frightening stat has been attributed to high blood pressure, high low-density lipoprotein (LDL), diabetes, smoking & secondhand smoke exposure, obesity, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity. A small percentage of us inherit genes that predispose us to the disease. But the great majority of us put ourselves at risk due to lifestyle choices.
Dr. F. Batmanghelidj, in his important book Your Body’s Many Cries for Water: You Are Not Sick, You Are Thirsty, writes that cell membranes require water to hold them together. When the body is not sufficiently hydrated, cells produce cholesterol to take care of the job. This, he says, can contribute to high cholesterol, which often correlates with heart disease. (Just one of the myriad of reasons that proper hydration is so vital.)
Caldwell Esselstyn, MD, is a surgeon at Cleveland Clinic. After decades of performing operations on patients with heart disease, he began researching preventative measures. Now, Dr. Esselstyn, no longer working as a surgeon, heads the Esselstyn Heart Disease Program at Cleveland Clinic, where he counsels on lifestyle choices (that) contribute to the development and progression of cardiovascular disease and how to slow or reverse it. His primary recommendation is plant-based eating. Within 12 weeks of committing to his program, patients’ symptoms have diminished or disappeared, and within a few months, angiograms have shown a widening of the coronary arteries — a reversal of heart disease.
Dr. Dean Ornish is another physician who has developed a program for reversing heart disease via lifestyle measures. His program has been so successful that it is covered by patients’ Medicare benefits. According to Dr. Ornish, it is the combined effect of four lifestyle elements that make the transformative difference: nutrition, fitness, stress management, and love & support.
Love and support, you say? Really? A meta-analysis on Frontiers in Psychology reports on 1,187 studies done with more than 1,458 million participants on the roles of love and social support in health and longevity. Their importance, the write-up concludes, is equivalent to that documented for other risk factors such as smoking or obesity. Amazing, wouldn’t you say?
Dr. Zach Bush, my favorite triple-board certified physician, on the heart page of his website, shares information on the role of chronic inflammation in heart disease. Those with chronic inflammatory diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, COPD, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders (most of which can be improved or reversed with lifestyle changes, according to many sources) are shown to have an elevated risk of developing heart disease. Further, lack of exercise, poor diet, lack of sleep, and stress are associated with chronic systemic inflammation and an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
I think most of us believe that heart disease starts later in life, or at the earliest, in young adults. That was my assumption until a few years ago. But in the early 1950’s, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported on research that had been done on the autopsied bodies of 300 Americans killed in the Korean War. Almost 80% had visible evidence of coronary atherosclerosis, and some of them had artery blockage of 90%. The average age of these soldiers was 22. Related studies are reported in an article shared on the US National Library of Medicine indicating that the beginnings of heart disease shows in children as young as 1 month of age. And according to Dr. Michael Greger in his NY Times Bestselling book How Not to Die, Italian researchers who examined the arteries of miscarriages and premies that died shortly after birth report that the arteries of fetuses whose mothers had high LDL levels were likely to contain arterial lesions. Therefore, beyond prevention, we should work to reverse the heart disease (we) very likely already have, Dr. Greger writes.
The choices you make each day create your lifestyle, and your lifestyle often dictates your tendency toward cardiovascular disease. Take time to consider the foods you eat, your sleep, water intake, physical activity, stress management, and social support, and make changes as needed. Don’t put yourself at risk for dying from a largely preventable disease.
Blessings for Healthy Choices,
The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.