Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Australia for both females and males. In 2015, cardiovascular disease caused 12.4% of all deaths in Australia and 15.5% of all deaths worldwide according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Even though mortality rates from cardiovascular disease have decreased significantly since the 1970s, I’m sure you will agree that these figures are still far too high.
As with any disease, early detection is important to achieve the best clinical outcomes.
What is cardiovascular disease?
Cardiovascular disease (CD) a collective term for diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Atherosclerosis is the process by which plaques build up within the artery walls, which can lead to narrowing and potential blockage of an artery. These atherosclerotic plaques are made up of cholesterol, other fats, calcium cellular waste products, microbes, and fibrin (a clotting material in the blood). So atherosclerotic plaques lead to artery disease and can affect any artery in the body.
When the arteries of the heart are involved it is referred to as coronary artery disease. These atherosclerotic plaques can sometimes rupture causing an acute blockage of the artery, which results in a heart attack or stroke.
What factors increase my risk of cardiovascular disease?
- Genetics: Cardiovascular disease risk factors can run in a family. However it is good to know that factors such as lifestyle, food choices and appropriate supplementation can positively influence how our genes express themselves
- Lifestyle factors such as smoking and lack of exercise
- Nutritional factors such as high sugar and fast food diets
- Emotional and psychological factors such as high stress and unresolved anger issues
- Metabolic factors that lead to type 2 diabetes and obesity
What about cholesterol ?
Cholesterol levels can be a risk factor in cardiovascular disease but it may not play as big a role as once thought. Many people with normal cholesterol levels have heart attacks and conversely, many people with very high cholesterol never have a problem
What about “bad” cholesterol ?
Commonly cholesterol is classified into two categories and referred to as either “good” or “bad”. The low-density type referred to as LDL “bad” cholesterol and the high-density HDL “good” cholesterol. In reality it is not that simple.
There can be good and bad LDLs and good and bad HDLs. Also there are different sub classes of LDL ranging from “good” (low capacity to damage arteries) to “bad” (high capacity to damage arteries). This can get quite complex and beyond the scope of this article – but the take home message is that not all cholesterol is bad all of the time.
In fact an obsession with someone’s cholesterol levels can cause other more relevant risk factors to be missed altogether.
Are there any other tests that can help with early detection?
The coronary calcium score test is widely considered to be the best non-invasive predictive test for heart disease risk. Measurements of central blood pressure as well as peripheral blood pressure are important, as is measurement of arterial elasticity. Genetic assessment via gene testing and a study of the family history is extremely important
The following blood test markers can be useful as part of cardiovascular disease risk assessment:
- HDL which is protective
- LDL/HDL ratio (calculated)
- Triglyceride/HDL ratio (calculated)
- Lipoprotein (a) which is a genetic risk factor strongly associated with coronary events
- Homocysteine which is an amino acid that has is associated with inflammation and increased risk of vascular damage
- Inflammatory markers such as High sensitivity CRP
- LDL subfractions which measure the different sizes and densities of the LDLs. The larger more buoyant particles are less atherogenic and the smaller denser LDLs are more atherogenic
- Blood sugar and insulin sensitivity markers
- Fibrinogen as an indicator of blood clotting tendency
What measures can I take to reduce my risk ?
Cardiovascular disease risk reduction can be split into two categories – dietary / lifestyle measures and pharmacological / supplemental measures. The lists below are SOME of the measures that can be taken to reduce cardiovascular disease risk – it is by no means exhaustive:
Dietary / Lifestyle measures include:
- Moderate exercise regularly
- Avoidance of processed foods such as white sugar, white bread, fast foods and “junk food” in general
- Avoidance of soft drinks
- Minimize cakes, sweet biscuits and pastries
- Minimize alcohol
- Quit smoking
- Manage stress and anxiety
- Try to have regular down time
- Socialize and spend time with loved ones and friends
- Meditation, yoga and allowing yourself to do activates you enjoy
- Unlimited vegetables
- Adequate fruit
- Garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric and other anti-inflammatory foods and spices
- Minimal red meat
- Dark chocolate
- Adequate complete dietary protein
- Avoid antibacterial mouthwash which can increase risk of artery damage
- Adequate hydration
- Adequate amounts of good quality sleep
- Although a very broad topic, maintain a healthy gut
Supplemental / pharmacological measures include:
- Fish oil
- Krill oil
- Co enzyme Q10 / Ubiquinol
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K2
- A good quality multivitamin and mineral
- Adequate zinc, copper and trace minerals
- Collagen and collagen forming nutrients such as vitamin C
- A general anti-inflammatory supplement such as turmeric or curcumin with ginger or other anti-inflammatory herbs
- Supplements to help with stress and sleep if needed
- Supplements to help with detoxification if needed
- Supplements to help increase tissue alkalinity and reduce tissue acidity
- Supplements to help maintain a healthy gut.
Keep in mind that no body system functions in isolation. So taking care of your whole body will benefit the cardiovascular system, which will then better contribute to the health of all other body systems.
Always remember that if you think something is wrong with your heart or cardiovascular system always seek medical help as soon as possible.
Modern cardiology, acute cardiovascular care and cardiovascular surgery is nothing short of amazing with very talented doctors, nurses and scientists doing amazing work. It would still obviously be better not to need this sort of intervention!
An eminent cardiologist has even suggested that 90% of cardiovascular disease is preventable.
I think I’ll be continuing with the prevention thing myself
Peter Radi – Naturopath And Nutritionist
Peter Radi is a naturopath, nutritionist and herbalist. and has been in clinical practice since 2000. He is available for private consultations at the Mr Vitamins Clinic where he can provide you with personalised health improvement programs.