Heart-to-heart coronary care

By Ruth Joseph, May 6, 2010

According to the Department of Health, coronary heart disease is preventable. Yet it kills more than 70,000 people and 110,000 have a heart-attack every year. Around 2 million people suffer from angina. So is it possible that we can rethink our lifestyles, making the necessary modifications in order to prevent ourselves from becoming another statistic?

What is coronary heart disease (CHD)? Arteries leading to the heart can gradually be "furred up" by a build-up of plaque inside the coronary arteries called atheroma. These supply the oxygenated-rich blood to the heart muscles and if these are blocked, the heart is starved of essential nutrients.

Who is most at risk? First smokers. According to NHS Choices, smoking is a major risk factor, as carbon monoxide (from the smoke) and nicotine put excessive strain on the heart along with other chemicals. Around 20 per cent of deaths in men and 17 per cent in women are attributable to smoking. Cutting out cigarettes can reduce the risk by half.

The latest guidance from Boots Web MD, tells us, "that waist size is a window to your heart health". For a woman, if it measures more than 32inches, 81cms, or 37inches, 94cm in a man, then chances of suffering from heart disease are significantly higher, as the visceral" fat" in the middle of the body releases hormones affecting insulin use. This can cause diabetes which increases risk. So if you manage to lose some weight, you will not only lower the risk of dangers from diabetes but also from CHD.

Watch your blood pressure. A healthy blood pressure is 120/80 to 140/90. If higher, then medication may be necessary but even so, this should be combined with a change in diet and a healthier lifestyle that includes regular exercise.

Consider your family history. Obviously there is nothing that can be done about past family members but looking after yourself is even more important if family members have suffered from CHD.

Check cholesterol levels and if they are high, change diet where possible. (See next week's feature on diet and cholesterol). There are two types of cholesterol - high density lipoprotein (HDL), the good cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called bad cholesterol which takes the cholesterol from the liver to the to the cells. However it is inclined to accumulate on the coronary artery walls increasing the risk of heart disease. HDL removes the cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver to be broken down or passed as waste.

Anyone with a predisposition to thrombosis or blood clot is also in danger of a heart attack or stroke. But the latest advice from the British Heart Foundation can help. Maybe now is the time to make simple changes to your life and diet.

Those five fruits and vegetables a day are now almost a mantra but you should also increase your consumption of fatty fish. The newest studies have proven that by eating two portions of fish per week, of which one should be an oily varietysuch as salmon, herring or mackerel , "can improve your chances of survival after a heart attack, " says the British Heart Foundation.

Change to wholegrains and high fibre wherever possible. Think daily porridge, an exceptional cholesterol-lowering natural food and include more lentils and beans.

Reduce salt intake, which includes hidden salts found in tinned foods such as baked beans, tinned soups and junk food, like pizzas. Reduce saturated fat intake, including high fat dairy products and meat, solid-type margarines and trans fats that are found mainly in junk food, commercially made biscuits, cakes and cheap margarine.

A small amount of red wine can be beneficial in helping the heart as it slightly increases HDL. Nevertheless alcohol intake should be reduced. Controversy exists between American and British heart groups as to whether a change in lifestyle is more effective than alcohol - certainly a higher rate of activity is recommended.

Interestingly, the American Heart foundation proved that slim people maintaining a sedentary lifestyle are more at risk than a slightly overweight active person. So take up brisk walking, cycling, dancing or swimming. Or you could try gardening and running up an extra flight of stairs. If you can talk easily while exercising you are moving too slowly. If you can talk but feel warm and breathing quicker than usual that is probably the right level. If you cannot talk then slow down slightly. Plus, consider taking up yoga, Tai-chi andqigong which all promote relaxation as well as invigorating exercise.

De-stressing is vital. New studies at Duke University, North Carolina, have revealed that during the recession and after World Cup football matches, earthquakes and other stressful events, CHD rose proportionally.

Last updated: 12:43pm, May 6 2010