Updated: Jul 13
Tragedies happen even on blissful summer days.
Last week, two people I know had heart attacks.
Both had mild symptoms leading up to the actual cardiac event. Feeling tired. Indigestion.
Both were in their 50s and were active.
Neither one knew they had heart disease.
Neither one knew how much plaque had built up in their arteries over the years.
Both hoped that some rest would make them feel better. It didn’t.
One survived the heart attack. The other left behind a wife and two young children. Just like that.
Three others in my immediate circle recently had emergency bypass and stent surgeries to open up arteries narrowed by plaque to prevent a heart attack from happening.
Heart disease is a silent epidemic and it’s likely you or someone you know has been impacted by it, too. Did you know that you can prevent heart disease?
Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The majority of victims never realized they were at risk. And sadly, for the ones who die without knowing they have heart disease, their first symptom is their last.
What Causes Most Heart Attacks?
Heart disease is the reason most of us will die prematurely. In most cases, simple choices we make every day may prevent, stop, and even reverse the effects of coronary artery disease, the most common form of heart disease. That means that heart disease may be a choice for many people.
If you were raised on and continue to eat a conventional diet, chances are you have fatty deposits in the walls of your arteries called plaque. Over the years, plaque accumulates and hardens, narrowing the path for blood to flow. This is called atherosclerosis. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, about half of Americans between ages 45 and 84 have atherosclerosis and don’t know it. Atherosclerosis has different names based on which arteries are affected: when it affects the heart, it’s called coronary artery disease. Artery blockages and plaque that bursts can lead to a heart attack.
What Causes Plaque Buildup?
In the book, “How Not To Die”, Dr. Michael Greger cites Dr. William C. Roberts, who was editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Cardiology for 40 years and executive director of the Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute who argued that there is one true risk factor for plaque buildup in your arteries: cholesterol, specifically LDL, which is why it’s been called “bad cholesterol”. It deposits the waxy, fatty cholesterol in your arteries that hardens into the plaque which leads to atherosclerosis.
The leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the CDC, is heart disease. Having high cholesterol raises the risk.
What is Cholesterol?
Blood cholesterol is a waxy substance made by your liver that is essential for good health. Your body needs it to perform important jobs, such as making hormones and digesting fatty foods.
Dietary cholesterol is found in animal foods, including meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. People who consume animal products also have an increased intake of saturated fatty acids which is documented to increase LDL cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In simple terms, too much cholesterol circulating in your body means that it gets deposited in places like your arteries. Over time, it builds up on the inside of the blood vessels and forms plaque that slows or blocks blood flow so you can see why your risk for developing high cholesterol increases with age.
High cholesterol also comes with no symptoms or warning signs, which is why it's important to have annual exams with routine blood work. Most sources say that for adults, the optimal total cholesterol level (which is calculated based on LDL, HDL, and triglycerides) should be under 200 mg/dL, although more cardiologists are recommending total cholesterol levels under 150 and LDL levels under 100. According to the CDC, nearly 25 million adults in the United States have total cholesterol levels above 240, which is considered high and often calls for interventions like statin medications.
The Good News About Heart Disease
Obviously, the best time to address a problem is before it becomes a crisis. Simple lifestyle changes can prevent and even reverse the effects of heart disease. A natural approach often results in a more favorable outcome because there are no side effects other than improved health. Yes, it’s easier to take a pill but medications come with risks of side effects such as the potential for liver or muscle damage. Besides, healthy lifestyle changes not only benefit your heart but also improve your overall health and longevity.
Understanding and controlling key risk factors can reduce your risk for a heart attack and stroke by more than 80 percent. To keep your heart healthy:
Get regular checkups that include routine bloodwork and know what your cholesterol level is. Ask about a calcium scoring test that shows where you have plaque buildup in your arteries and helps determine your future risk of heart disease. Know what your blood pressure is, too.
Eat a diet that’s full of fresh, whole foods, like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based protein that’s free from dietary cholesterol. Choose foods low in saturated fats, salt, and added sugar. Avoid all foods with trans fats.
Move your body every day in a way that increases your heart rate.
Regulate stress levels and do things to reduce stress like getting enough quality sleep, spending time outside in nature, meditating, laughing, and doing things that you enjoy.
Quit smoking TODAY.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Limit alcohol consumption.
Heart Disease is Scary Stuff
So, from my heart to yours, it feels important to share this information in hopes you will take your heart health seriously today.
If you’re looking to make healthy lifestyle changes, either because you want to or because your doctor has already recommended it, and you’re not sure where to start, I can help.
I work with people who want the benefits and results that come with a consistent, sustainable approach to healthy lifestyle changes. Learn more about how we can work together or reach out to me for a free 15-minute consultation.