By Andrea Erickson
February is the month of Valentines and love. Herman’s Hermits captured these feelings in 1963 with their hit song, “Baby Baby, can you feel my heartbeat?” Ironically, during December of that same year, President Johnson issued Proclamation 3566 – American Heart Month, which urged the people of the United States to “heed the nationwide problem of the heart and blood vessel diseases, and to support the programs designed to bring about its solution.” This formal designation began in 1964, which means this February 2014 is the 50th anniversary!
Heart disease is frightening – it’s the leading cause of death among women in the United States, and is high on the list for men, as well. It’s also a major threat to Senior Health. According to the Center for Disease Control, 84% of men and women aged 65 and older die from heart disease. But, it’s not restricted to age. Heart disease can be a chronic condition brought on by family history, as well as high blood pressure, or diabetes. Other risk factors, such as age, obesity and smoking can also play a role. So, heart disease is not only associated with age, it spans the years of a lifetime. The good news is that you can modify your chances of getting Heart Disease by reducing your risk factors.
So, what exactly is ‘heart disease’?
Heart disease is a term used to describe health conditions that affect the heart. In the U.S., the most common form is Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), where coronary arteries become hardened and narrowed due to a buildup of plaque.
A history of high cholesterol levels can contribute to the formation of plaque. As plaque continues to build over time, it can narrow arteries. Blood clots can form at the plaque buildup and obstruct blood flow affecting the organ connected to the artery. Though more rare, plaque itself can break off and cause an obstruction (embolus), which could go to the brain and cause a stroke.
‘Bad’ and ‘Good’ Cholesterol
Bad cholesterol or LDL, Low Density Lipoprotein, is a type of lipid present in the blood and, if present in large amounts, can cause health problems as it will typically accumulate in the arteries, and cause blockage. Bad cholesterol can be found in foods rich in trans fatty acids and cholesterol-rich foods such as egg yolk, liver, kidney, dairy products like cream cheese, etc. Refined carbohydrates such as white sugar and flour, and alcohol can also contribute to the development of high cholesterol.
Good cholesterol or HDL, High Density Lipoprotein, serves to transport cholesterol from the arteries and tissues to the liver and other organs such as ovaries, adrenal glands, and testes. Good cholesterol can be found in onions and Omega-3 fatty acids such as flax oil, fish, foods rich in fiber like grains, oats, bran etc.
Do any other factors contribute to Heart Disease?
High levels of bad cholesterol are not the only risk factor that can contribute to plaque buildup. Other risk factors, such as diabetes, family history of early heart disease, high blood pressure, age, obesity, and smoking can also play a role.
So, if you have high cholesterol, plus any of these additional risk factors, you could be at increased risk for plaque buildup in your arteries compared to someone who has high cholesterol alone.
How can I prevent Heart Disease from happening to me?
There are many things each of us can do. Stay tuned for Part 2!