Escaping the Wrath of Heart Disease
Written By: Dave Johnson, MD
Are you alarmed by the bad news or encouraged by the good news? Based upon your mindset you may be at greater risk for heart disease than your traditional cardiac risk factors might predict. Let me explain.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that one-third of women felt to be low risk for coronary artery disease actually had the disease and a higher than predicted risk for heart disease. (1) The American Heart Association reports that 50% of men and 64% of women die suddenly from coronary heart disease without any previous symptoms or diagnosis of the disease; death is often the first symptom. In fact, the absence of traditional cardiac risk factors is associated with the greatest likelihood of dying with an initial heart attack. (2) Despite these grim statistics heart disease is escapable.
Modern research is unraveling the once highly regarded theory of genetic determinism, which implies that individual genes determine one’s destiny. New research in the rapidly expanding field of epigenetics is now showing that our external environment, and even our mental attitudes, beliefs, and emotions, can dictate the expression of our genes and our subsequent destiny. This is great news! This means we have tremendous influence over our biology. In other words, our genes form the complex roadmap for our health journey while our choices determine the route that we will take on this journey.
New research in the rapidly expanding field of epigenetics is now showing that our external environment, and even our mental attitudes, beliefs, and emotions, can dictate the expression of our genes and our subsequent destiny
We all want to live a long, happy and healthy life. Longevity is never guaranteed but there are simple strategies available to individuals that promote healthy aging and hence support longevity. As a cardiologist, I know that a healthy vascular system is essential to longevity. The blood vessels carry essential nutrients to every cell of the body while removing unwanted toxins from cells, tissues, and organs. Thus, successful aging and a healthy body are dependent upon maintaining a healthy vascular system.
The Vascular System
Your vascular system is made up of blood vessels that supply nourishment to every cell and organ in your body. Keeping them healthy is essential to maintaining your physical and mental health. To do this job, the average adult has over 100,000 miles of blood vessels through which approximately 2,000 gallons of blood flows each day. It is essential that the vessels maintain their health in order to deliver the goods that your cells need through the arteries and capillaries while helping remove the waste products of your cells through the veins, eventually eliminating this debris through your lungs, skin, urine and bowel movements.
The inner lining of the blood vessels is called the endothelium. This layer of cells is the largest endocrine organ in the body which naturally secretes chemicals that cause the blood vessels to dilate when more blood flow is needed to nourish the cells, tissue, and organs. When this system begins to fail, and the cells are unable to get the nourishment they need then the cells and organs begin to become dysfunctional. This early phase is called endothelial dysfunction, which leads to such diseases as hypertension, coronary artery disease, vascular dementia and potentially most other degenerative chronic diseases. There is no need to wait until high blood pressure develops or plaque begins to accumulate in the walls of these vessels. The EndoPAT test is a noninvasive test that is done in a physician’s office and can determine whether you blood vessels are functioning normally. This information is important to know since there are simple lifestyle changes, dietary supplements, and medications that can help restore normal function when endothelial dysfunction has occurred. The EndoPAT test is available at Grand Rapids Natural Health. To learn more go to www.DaveJohnsonMD.com/services.
Vascular Health and Successful Aging
The consumption of plant-rich nutrient dense whole foods, supplemental nutrients, stress reduction techniques like yoga and meditation, exercise, detoxification and healthy supportive relationships have all been proven to help reverse these adverse processes and lead to a longer and healthier life. Whether you're male or female, young or old, there are three steps you can take to successfully age while escaping the wrath of heart disease.
- Eat plants. Begin by incorporating more plants into your meals. Eliminate or crowd out the pro-inflammatory foods like refined sugars, dairy and processed meats that impair the health of your blood vessels and subsequently your body. Find community support as you pursue change and know that you are not alone. Explore international flavors as you transition to a plant-rich and nutrient dense diet. You will be happier and healthier knowing that you are supporting your health, sharing your experience with others and contributing to restoring the health of our environment.
- Find time to move. Make it playful and something you enjoy. There is no limit and be creative if you have physical limitations. If you have a desk job, get up every 20 minutes for a stretch and brief walk, or consider a standing desk with a wobble board. If you have been sedentary, see your doctor before beginning any vigorous exercise programs. Find a local tai chi or gentle yoga class.
- Find tranquility. Most Americans report increases in chronic stress compared to the previous generation. Find time for relaxation and self-inquiry. Give yourself respite from the negativity of news and social media. Know that you are not alone and open your heart to the beauty that exists in the world. Look for beauty in yourself and listen for the negative self-talk, as it occurs be humble and blow it away much as one blows dandelion seeds into the wind. Get to know yourself so that you can better understand your personal journey and role in the life you have been blessed. Consider beginning a meditation practice or attending a yoga practice. Walk in nature while you leave your Smartphone or music device in the car. Listen to the abundant offering nature can supply. Rest, rejoice and sleep. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily. Again, find a friend or community to support you in any change that you make and for most of us, realize the steps are small, not giant leaps, as we are often conditioned to believe by out culture.
The Power of Connections: You’re Not Alone
To celebrate heart month, let’s focus on prevention and what you can do to support your cardiovascular health and both short- and long-term health goals. Know that you are not alone in this health journey. Whether you are already suffering from illness or maintaining your wellness, the power of connection will serve you well. Empowering mindsets that facilitate healthy choices are essential to enjoying a happier and healthier life. It is possible to change the I- in illness to the We- in wellness and Grand Rapids Natural Health is happy to partner with you on this journey, you need not be alone on this journey. In fact, individuals with optimistic mindsets tend to have deeper social connections that contribute to their health and vitality. At Grand Rapids Natural Health we have a team of medical doctors, naturopathic doctors, health coaches, and counselors as well as skin care specialists and massage therapists that are available to assist you on your health journey.
- JAMA 2016;316(20):2126-2134.
- 2011 Nov 16; 306(19): 2120–2127.