February 20, 2019
November 12, 2018 by Dr. Varner in Heart Disease
What would you say is your biggest fear?
Someone breaking and entering? Getting into a car crash? Spiders? As terrifying as these might be, your chances of getting killed by any of those things is pretty low.
In fact, none of them come even close to the biggest killer in the world today: cardiovascular disease, which accounts for 1 in 4 deaths in the US alone.
The good news is, the power to stave off cardiovascular disease is in your hands.
The key is in the fact that Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), the most common form of heart disease, is not something that you just “catch”. Instead, it builds up over time as a result of your overall lifestyle habits.
By becoming informed about your health and taking action to start living well, you have a strong chance of preventing CAD and even reversing it once you have it.
So what causes CAD and how can you reduce your risk of developing it? Read on for the essentials—
What is Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary Artery Disease is a disease that affects your coronary arteries, which are the ones that are responsible for supplying oxygenated blood to your heart.
Based on your diet and lifestyle choices, little by little, fat, calcium, and plaque get deposited on the sides of the walls of your coronary arteries.
These arteries are very small and have low pressure in them, so when plaque builds up on the walls of coronary arteries, it can restrict the ability of blood to pass by and flow to the heart.
Sometimes it’s only moderately restricted and blood finds alternate pathways to get by. Other times people start feeling pain because they’re not able to get enough blood coming to the heart.
The worst disaster associated with coronary artery disease is an ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), more commonly known as a heart attack. This happens when one of these plaques actually ruptures and then causes a blood clot to form blocking off the entire coronary artery and leading to a large portion of the heart not getting any blood. This is can lead to sudden death.
To help reduce your chances of this happening, the key is in reducing the initial buildup of fat, calcium, and plaque in your arteries and then reducing your inflammation, which could trigger something far more serious.
Reduce Inflammation for Heart Health
Let’s start by talking about inflammation.
Inflammation is your body’s response to either bacteria or something getting in the way that your body doesn’t recognize. When your blood vessels expand, it reddens and gets hot, drawing in your immune system cells to deal with the issue.
The key thing about inflammation is that it’s not restricted to just the part of your body that has an infection. It’s a total-body process.
For example, if you have an infection in the bone of your big toe, I would be able to tell just by measuring various parameters in your blood. So if you have an inflammatory process destroying your joints, it is also working on the rest of your body too.
As a result, if you have an inflammatory condition like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, you will be at a higher risk for CAD to begin with. Thus, one of the most important things you can do to reduce your chances of CAD are to manage your existing inflammatory conditions.
Beat Smoking to Beat CAD
You will also be at a higher risk of CAD when exposed to inflammatory stimulants such as smoking.
When a cigarette burns, it forms tiny carbon rings in the form of ash which settle in your lungs, and your immune system is then activates on a mass scale to suck them up. This causes a tremendous amount of inflammation.
I often get asked about vaping as an alternative by people. My answer is that vaping is much preferable to smoking because it does not have the thousands of different chemicals that we have in cigarettes smoke.
That doesn’t mean it is without risk. It is a harm reduction method whereby you are going to put yourself in less danger if you vape instead of smoke. That does not mean that you are completely safe in vaping.
Tackle High Blood Pressure to Prevent CAD
The next risk factor to be aware of is Hypertension or High Blood Pressure.
As I mentioned before, your coronary arteries are relatively lower pressure, meaning blood cells pass through them at a low speed and intensity. Now, all of your blood cells every once in a while bash against the walls of the arteries. If this just happens every now and then at a low speed and intensity it’s no big deal.
But, if they start bashing against the wall of the artery with greater intensity, you get the arrival of immune cells and ultimately you have big problems as this promotes the development of plaque in your arteries and inflammation.
In general, high blood pressure is typically a sign of other issues with your body, such as being overweight or stressed, which can also be contributors to CAD.
A doctor can give you a pill for your blood pressure and send you on your way, but this just masks the issue. A much better path is to work out why your blood pressure is high and make some lifestyle changes. Working to reduce the stress levels in your life will definitely help, as will improving your diet and exercise habits.
The last risk factor I’ll cover today is Diabetes.
Both Types 1 and 2 Diabetes are marked by high levels of blood sugar, either because your body isn’t secreting insulin properly or it’s stopped responding to it. This is bad because your blood isn’t meant to hold that much sugar, and it’s very toxic for the walls of your arteries and causes more plaque buildup in the smaller and more vulnerable ones.
In addition, it causes a lot of inflammation as your immune system is activated to cope.
Just like with high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes is typically an indication of a bad lifestyle and diet. This can be a wake-up call to start exercising more and eat better, which in turn will reduce your risk of CAD.
Coronary Artery Disease is a big killer, that’s a fact. But it’s not necessarily an immediate death sentence. You can take responsibility for your health through your lifestyle and take action to prevent it and even reverse it once you have it.
All it takes is to start making some of the changes I talked about in this article, including cutting out smoking, reducing the stress in your life, improving your diet, and managing chronic conditions. Read more on the best diets for preventing and managing CAD here.