Both men and women can be at risk for cardiovascular disease, which is becoming a major cause of death and debility in our country. While it is the number one killer of women every year, men have a greater risk of heart attack than women and tend to have attacks earlier in life. There are several risk factors that you can control to improve your heart health. Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in theUS, and is a major cause of both heart disease and stroke. This risk applies to people exposed to second-hand smoke, and increases dramatically in women who smoke and use birth control pills.
High blood pressure is also a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. According to the American Heart Association, normal blood pressure is 120/80 and truly high blood pressure is at or above 140/90. Values in between may be considered “prehypertension”, but need to be evaluated on an individual basis.
Several other risk factors tend to cluster together. People with a sedentary lifestyle tend to also be overweight and develop high cholesterol and/or diabetes. While weight management is a huge part of heart health, fad diets that offer dramatic weight loss in a short period of time are actually more stressful on the heart than weight loss that is slower, consistent, and based on sustainable and healthy life choices. Excessive alcohol consumption can increase obesity, triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and risk of cancer, heart failure, and stroke.
Cholesterol levels should also be maintained at heart healthy levels. Total cholesterol should be less than 200, but be wary of dropping it too low. Cholesterol is essential to the structure of cell membranes, and very low levels can also cause health problems. A high HDL is heart protective, and a low HDL is a greater risk factor for women than men. The higher the HDL is, the more protection it provides, and values should be above 55. High LDL can increase risk, even if the total cholesterol level is less than 200. LDL should be less than 100, as should triglycerides.
Diabetes is a major risk factor for women; women with diabetes have two to six times the risk for heart disease than women without diabetes, and the risk of stroke also significantly increases.
Stress also has a big impact on heart disease. The impact may be related to the changes in hormone levels and blood pressure under stress, but there may be a separate emotional aspect; people under stress rarely feel the joy that is the natural emotion of a healthy heart.
Another factor that is receiving more attention is the role that mercury toxicity plays in increasing heart disease risk.
So how can you improve your heart health? The answers lie in many of the basic treatment guidelines: stop smoking; move every day; eat a balanced diet with lots of healthy fats and essential fatty acids; use apple cider vinegar to reduce LDL and triglycerides; and use probiotics and castor oil packs to improve liver function and cholesterol processing and production. It is also important to find the cause of high blood pressure and to manage or reduce stress as much as possible. Find sources of joy in everyday life. Treatment for mercury, especially if there are other symptoms of mercury toxicity, can also eliminate an underlying risk factor.
© Kimberly Hindman, 2006