Nutritional Program for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention
With a little effort on each of our parts and a willingness to change, we can make a big difference in the incidence of this nation's number one killer, cardiovascular disease (CVD). Heart and blood vessel disease are not inevitable; in fact, they are preventable in most cases. It is very clear from every major study in the last decade that diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol, which would consist of regular intake of red meats, dairy foods, and eggs, are directly correlated to the incidence of CVD and its complications, whereas a low saturated fat, low cholesterol diet greatly lowers the risk of these diseases.
The main disease process at the base of the cardiovascular diseases is atherosclerosis, or hardening and clogging of the arteries. (Arteriosclerosis is the generic term referring to hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis refers to the disease process of artery plaqueing and is the term I will use in this text.) Atherosclerosis involves the thickening and narrowing of our blood vessels that occurs somewhat in most people, but with certain risk factors it can progress very rapidly and lead to early demise, even in their 40s or 50s.
Prevention of CVD
Atherosclerosis commonly affects the coronary arteries, which deliver blood to the heart muscle itself. This biggest cardiovascular concern causes a great deal of limitation and chest pain, or angina pectoris. When advanced, this coronary artery disease can result in a myocardial infarction (MI, heart attack, or "coronary"). Heart attacks are clearly the most common cause of death in the United States and the Western world. Other areas of the body may also be affected with atherosclerosis. Disease of the carotid arteries of the neck affects our mental faculties; atherosclerosis of the leg arteries decreases our ability to walk without pain; and clogging of the pelvic arteries affects our sexual performance.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often a hidden multifactorial problem and the most common CVD; the main pathologic process involved in hypertension is atherosclerosis. The narrowing and hardening of the arteries increase their resistance and pressure and makes the heart work harder, which can then wear down this vital muscle. Untreated hypertension may lead to further heart disease including heart attacks and congestive heart failure, as well as to cerebrovascular accidents (stroke).
For nearly half a century, cardiovascular disease has been the number one cause of mortality and morbidity in the United States and in most of the Western world. At the turn of the century, it was not even in the top ten. In underdeveloped countries where people live on a more natural, "native" diet, there is a low incidence of CVD. In the United States, the many CVDs account for over 50 percent of all deaths. Of course, people live longer now, which allows for the development of more degenerative disease, but there is also more middle-age weight gain in a more sedentary population that eats more fats and refined foods than in the past. These last three factors are fairly easy to change (if change is ever easy) and form the basis of preventing these now common diseases.
Circulation and heart disease are not inevitable results of aging. In countries where populations eat a diet low in fats, cholesterol, and salt there is very little or no hypertension in comparison to countries whose people eat those richer foods. The 90-year-olds in Hunza society appear to be free of CVD and have normal blood pressure. To keep the blood pressure low with age and minimize the atherosclerotic process we need to do the following:
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© Elson M. Haas MD