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Cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term for diseases and injuries with respect to the blood system of the body, including the heart and the blood vessels. In Canada, of those diagnosed with CVD, 32% of males and 34% of females die each year, and it is the number one killer of both genders annually.  Heart disease, coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis, and stroke would fall under the term. Although technically erectile dysfunction is not put under the "cardiovascular disease" group, it probably should be, as it is a good early warning sign for men that there may be a problem in the blood system, as men with erectile problems frequently later get diagnosed with some form of cardiovascular disease.  So, if you take Viagra, get your ticker and vascular system checked as a precaution. It is generally accepted that initially CVD is caused by an injury, tear, or cut to the inside of a blood vessel, and the body responds by sending cholesterol to the site of the injury in order to plaster over the injury and make the vessel wall smooth again.  Preventing the initial cuts in the blood vessels will go a long way to prevent CVD.  Free radical damage and glycation in the blood vessels are two probable causes of the initial lesions.

Get your blood pressure monitored regularly as this is an easy way to screen for problems in the arterial system. When the cuff is pumped up around the arm the circulation to the hand is cut off. As the technician slowly lowers the pressure, there comes a point where when as the heart beats, the blood can spurt through the artery, but between beats the overpressure of the outside cuff prevents blood from getting through. That is the top number in your blood pressure reading. The technician continues to lower the pressure from the cuff until she/he hears nothing more, indicating that the blood can now flow through the artery with no impedance. That point indicates the pressure in the artery between beats, which is the low number of your blood pressure reading. Normal blood pressure varies but is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 120/80 or 110/70. Physicians get worried when the pressure gets to 140/90 or 150/100, depending which country you live in. The bottom number is more significant - the higher the pressure in the artery when the heart is between beats, the more stuff might be clogging the arteries.   You can't actually feel that your blood pressure is high, so frequent monitoring is necessary.

Symptoms of heart attack are DIFFERENT in men and women, which is why women often get misdiagnosed, and consequently die more frequently than men. For women, the most common early warning symptom (71%) is unusual fatigue and weakness, not chest pain. Other common early symptoms in women are sleep disturbance, shortness of breath, indigestion and anxiety. Acute symptoms for women include shortness of breath 58%, weakness 55%, dizziness 39%, cold sweats 39%. No wonder doctors miss heart attacks with those symptoms!  So ladies, if you get these symptoms, phone 911 - it might save your life.  Only 30% of women get the chest pain or angina, pressure or discomfort that may move to the left arm, occasionally right, and/or jaw and upper back that is so common in men.  Other common male symptoms for heart attack include pallor, very fast heart rate, difficulty breathing, sweating, and nausea.

I think that EVERYONE over the age of about 15 should be trained in CPR, and get retraining at least every other year. It is only a four hour course, not very expensive, and that person that you will save will probably be a family member or a friend. Those minutes between the time you call 911 and the time the ambulance arrives are the most important minutes for determining the outcome of the emergency. You may not be able to save them, but trying might make all the difference. CPR training will also teach you what to do in case of choking (important if you have young kids), or if someone has stopped breathing, or is unconscious.

Most risk factors for CVD can be controlled through lifestyle, so even if you have a family history there is much you can do to avoid getting the disease.   Regular exercise (3-4 days a week) can reduce your risk by up to 50%.  Drink adequate water so you keep your capillary beds open and keep your blood pressure down.  Lowering one's body fat to within healthy ranges lowers one's risk of CVD. With respect to diet, avoid refined carbohydrates, flour products and refined sugar in all its forms, especially high-fructose corn syrup which is converted to triglycerides within an hour of consuming them, packaged food, powdered milk, eggs or whey, manufactured and refined fats like transfats, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, and refined vegetable oils.  Increasing your intake of omega 3 fatty acids to between 2 and 4 grams a day can reduce your risk of CVD by up to 40%.  Fish oils are more bioavailable than flax oil for many people.  (If you are on blood thinners like Aspirin or Coumadin, consult with your doctor for guidance in reducing the dosage of the medication before beginning omega 3 supplements.) With respect to saturated fats, only eat free-range / pasture fed sources, organic if possible, and get yourself metabolically typed so that you know how much fat is safe for you personally to consume.  There is lots of research to support the notion that low-vitamin diets are linked to CVD.  Synthetic supplements just don't do the job that real food does, so get your nutrition by choosing great quality food.  Raw butter is a fantastic source of both vitamin A and D.  Eat your vitamin-rich veggies, especially those green leafies!  Eat whole grains and legumes in the amounts dictated by your metabolic type, as they are full of the B vitamins.  Smoking greatly increases your risk of CVD, so do your best to quit.  Do what you can to lower your stress levels - meditation can be extremely helpful. Men and post menopausal women should get their iron levels checked regularly, as too much iron increases the risk of heart disease.  Donating blood on a regular basis can easily reduce iron levels.

Because just as many people that die of CVD have low cholesterol as high cholesterol, and just as many people without CVD have high cholesterol as low cholesterol, I am not convinced that cholesterol is the problem it is made out to be.   For more information on the lack of association between saturated fat, cholesterol and heart disease, read the book The Cholesterol Myths by Uffe Ravnskov, and Know Your Fats, by lipid researcher Mary Enig.  Do your own research and make up your own mind.

Related tips:
High cholesterol does not cause heart disease
Saturated Fat: the misunderstood nutrient
Water, our critical solvent
Deceptive Food Labeling
Sugar, the disease generator
Fats - the good, the bad, and the ugly
Heart-rate training

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Enig, Mary; Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer For Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol Bethesda Press, Silver Spring, MD, 2003.
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