Written by: Jonine Moller, M.Sc. in Sports Science
29 September is World Heart Day. As the name implies, it is a global initiative as it should be because the burden of cardiovascular diseases on health care systems, economies, and innumerable personal lives are enormous. World Heart Day is all about the awareness and prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
Cardiovascular disease is not one of those things: “oh, what are the chances of that happening to me?” No, these diseases are very common and become even more so as the year's pass. Worldwide the number one cause of death is cardiovascular diseases – amounting to almost 18 million in 2019.
Cardiovascular diseases fall under the umbrella of non-communicable diseases, which are responsible for more than a third of all deaths worldwide. To explain what non-communicable diseases are, we can make it as simple as saying they are diseases caused by lifestyle factors instead of infection by any type of pathogen.
All the non-communicable diseases that involve the heart and blood vessels are termed cardiovascular diseases. Atherosclerosis is what leads up to most of these diseases. It involves the build-up of plaque within the walls of the arteries, causing them to become narrow and hard. Of course, the first consequence of narrow arteries is the obstruction of blood flow.
Regarding the prevention of cardiovascular disease, the focus was, for a long, wrongly on trying to control cholesterol levels. However, atherosclerosis is now well-described as being an inflammatory disease. It does not develop due to the simple “sticking” of fatty plaque to the artery walls. The processes are more complex and start with damage to the arteries that is caused by inflammation.
Understanding the root cause of the disease is crucial because it determines how to prevent it. Understanding that cardiovascular disease develops with inflammation at its core shifts the attention from only wanting to reduce the intake of dietary fats to the vital importance of firstly cutting back on sugars.
Heart attacks and strokes are the most common consequences of cardiovascular disease and the ultimate causes of death. Heart attacks occur when blood flow to the heart is cut off, which causes the heart tissue to die if not intervened quickly enough. Likewise, strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is cut off.
What are the most important things I can do to reduce my risk of cardiovascular diseases?
- Don’t smoke
- Eat as close to nature as possible. What does this mean? (There are so many dos and don’ts when it comes to what a healthy diet is. What all the guidelines come back to, however, is the following):
- Consume mostly whole foods – foods in their natural form (for example, whole fruit and vegetables instead of juices or products made thereof, legumes instead of pasta and bread)
- Eat as little as possible processed foods
- Eat as little as possible sugar and refined carbohydrates
- Use alcohol responsibly, in moderate amounts
- Exercise; be physically active. Ideally, aim to improve and maintain your aerobic fitness and muscle strength.
For further information on the specific risk factors and signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease, please read our other blog post <here>.
Even though cardiovascular diseases fall under the umbrella of “lifestyle” diseases, and although this is accurate, an individual’s genetic make-up may play a significant role in their predisposition for developing cardiovascular diseases. Your genes put you at a higher or lower risk, meaning the lengths to which you can risk a slightly unhealthy lifestyle differs from person to person.
Let BioCertica help you this month in your efforts to prevent the development of cardiovascular disease for you and your loved ones. Find out just how important your lifestyle is – health is not worth gambling with!