I read an article a couple of days ago that was written by a medical colleague of mine. It reminded me of my life story and what I have done to change it. A follower of his blog wrote:"... my father has heart disease, his father did too, and I'm obviously concerned about my own heart. What can I do to prevent heart disease?"
My story is so similar, it made me think that maybe it's important for me to write about it again. You see, my father died of a heart attack at age 53, his father at age 50 of a heart attack and my great-grandfather of a heart attack at age 47. So you see when I turned 25 in medical school, I turned to my wife and announced that "my life was now half over!" She asked me why and I told her it was genetics! How wrong I was, because I'm about to celebrate another birthday 15 years after my father died and I have no heart disease.
What role does genetics play in heart disease?
Now don't get me wrong, genetics does play a role in the development of heart disease to some degree, but there are many other factors we can control that contribute to or reverse heart disease. As my doctor friend puts it: "genetics loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger." Our lifestyles - the way we eat, exercise, sleep, manage stress, and the environmental toxins we expose ourselves to - all contribute to things like high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and high blood sugar. This leads to metabolic syndrome and of course, heart disease.
How doctors treat heart disease
Doctors in training are taught that treating the risk factors of heart disease, and not the causes, is the best treatment. To think that we can treat heart disease by simply lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar with medication is like mopping up the floor while the faucet runs and the sink continues to overflow. It's more important to find out what causes the high cholesterol, high blood sugar or high blood pressure. Conditions like these are not a product of a deficiency of a medication. Changing your lifestyle is more powerful.
Lifestyle intervention - does it work?
Research shows lifestyle intervention is more effective than almost any other traditional medical intervention to reduce cardiovascular disease, hypertension, heart failure, stroke, cancer, diabesity (obesity with diabetes) and deaths from all causes. What we eat or exposed to in our environment changes gene expression. This, in turn, can increase inflammation, oxidative stress and metabolic dysfunction. This is what causes us to get sick and develop problems like heart disease. Preventive medicine (not the medicine Big Pharma teaches doctors) is the best form of medicine. The simple modifications to lifestyle listed below can go a long way to preventing or reversing disease.
- Eat a healthy diet - Increase healthy foods that are rich in nutrients (vitamins & minerals) and phytonutients (nutrients that come from plants). The old recommendation of 5 to 9 servings of fruits and veggies is now 8 to 10. These foods are filled with nutrients that are important to fight disease. This includes vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and nutrients that help the body avoid inflammation. Avoid processed fast or junk food, including sodas, juices and diet drinks. Latest research shows that liquid-sugar calories are the biggest contributor to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
- Eat the right fats - Increase the omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. These fats are anti-inflammatory and are found in cold-water fish like salmon, char, sardines and herring. You can also find them in flaxseeds and seaweed. Increasing the omega-3 fats in you diet has been shown to lower your LDL-Cholesterol (it lowers the small, dangerous LDL particles into safe light, fluffy LDL particles). Eliminate all hydrogenated fats (Trans-Fat). These fats are typically found in margarine, shortening, processed oils and baked goods. Check the labels carefully as sometimes the package will say "no trans fats", but have hydrogenated fats instead. Switch to a healthy oil like coconut (rich in medium chain triglycerides which are burned for energy and not stored as fat), extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oil, organic sesame oil or other nut oils.
- Intermittently fast - this type of fast is not the one where one or more days each week you don't eat. What I'm talking about is "fasting" from dinner until breakfast the next morning. By fasting 10 to 14 hours each day, your body becomes a fat-burning machine. If you are eating late and not fasting, your body burns carbs for energy - not fat.
- Take quality supplements - Supplements when combined with a healthy diet and exercise program can greatly improve your cardiovascular health. Take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement along with a purified fish oil supplement.
- Exercise - Thirty to 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least five times a week has been shown to benefit our hearts. Remember, your heart is a muscle. You cannot age well without sufficient, optimal exercise.
- Reduce stress - Stress alone causes heart attacks. Chronic stress causes a cascade of problems that can ultimately lead to a fatal heart attack, obesity, and other conditions. Stress increases inflammation, can raise your cholesterol and blood sugar, raise your blood pressure and even cause your blood to clot. Chronic stress can cause you to gain weight and obesity causes a myriad of health problems. Find a way to reduce your stress. Read a book, meditate, yoga, walk - anything that causes you to put your body's stress button on pause.
- Detox your body - environmental toxins from the food we eat, water we drink, air we breathe, skincare products we use - all of these eventually end up in the fat we make. Studies recently have shown that the cord bloods of newborn infants contain more than 200 toxins! Items in our food, deodorants, and even our prescription medications contain ingredients which the FDA has labelled as GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) are now thought to cause cancers. Recent news reports about Flint, MI and other communities with their public water supplies polluted with lead and other contaminants has alerted us that we need to be more vigilant about what we eat, drink, etc. Do we have to detox every day? Think about it. We are exposed to so many pollutants in daily life that we must detox regularly. There are a number of good detox supplements out there - just be sure to do it regularly.
- Drink filtered water - Let's face it, tap water or well water may not be as safe as we think it is. Lead or pesticides in our public water supplies has been in the news regularly. Environmental toxins reek havoc with our immune systems, our weight, inflammation. Bottles water isn't much safer. Look at water filtration systems (portable or whole house) to remove as much of the contamination as possible. Don't forget that the air pollution we breathe is harmful too. That also goes for the air in our houses and the pollutants we bring into our homes, apartments and businesses. Consider buying a home air filter system.
- Stop smoking - This one is really a no-brainer! Just consider this - there are around 7000 toxins you inhale with each cigarette or cigar you smoke. Even electronic cigarettes have pollutants that end up in our bodies.