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Cardiovascular Health

“Almost one in two men and women die from heart attacks or strokes.  One man in four will have a heart attack before retirement age and a quarter of all deaths from heart attack occur in people under the age of 65.  For women, heart disease and strokes are second only to cancer as the leading cause of death between the ages of 35 and 54.” (The H Factor; Patrick Holford & Dr James Braly; p77).

These statistics may make gloomy reading but much can be done to prevent this disease. Charities such as the British Heart Foundation and Heart Research UK are helping to raise public awareness and provide information through various events and visits around the UK.

What is Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardio refers to the “heart” and vascular refers to the “blood vessels”, therefore cardiovascular disease is a malfunction of any of these components. Over 90% of CVD is caused by arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis. Both of these cause a hardening or thickening of blood vessel walls.
Arteriosclerosis is usually caused by a build-up of calcium deposits in the endothelium (lining of the arteries). Atherosclerosis (athero: Greek for paste) is caused by fat deposits in the endothelium.

These two conditions take several years to develop and symptoms, such as high blood pressure and angina (chest pain) tend to appear when the arteries are quite blocked. When the blood vessels that supply the heart become totally blocked, this can result in a heart attack. A blocked artery in the brain can result in a stroke.
Cardiovascular Facts

Your heart is about the size of your fist
It beats around 2 ½ billion times in an average lifetime.
It beats around 60 - 70 times a minute when resting
There are 5 - 6 litres of blood in an adult body
The heart pumps blood throughout the body via a network of blood vessels called arteries, veins and capillaries
There are 100,000 miles of blood vessels in an average human body.
Risk Factors for CVD

There are a number of factors which may increase the incidence of CVD, both avoidable and unavoidable.

Unavoidable risk factors include:

Age - arteries naturally stiffen with age.
Gender - men tend to have a higher incidence of heart disease, although women rapidly catch up after menopause.
Family History - there seems to be a slightly higher risk if others in the family have CVD.
Race - Asians and Afro-Caribbeans tend to have a higher risk when adopting a Western lifestyle.

Avoidable risk factors are:

High alcohol consumption
Physical inactivity
Diabetes (Type 2)

Symptoms of CVD

Common symptoms are:

Pain in the chest, teeth, neck or arms when walking uphill or in a hurry.
Severe and prolonged breathlessness or undue fatigue
Irregular heartbeats or palpitations, especially when in a hurry
Light headedness, fainting, double vision, nausea, mental confusion or temporary paralysis when exercising.

As these symptoms appear when the disease has progressed quite far, regular health assessments are recommended, especially after the age of 40.  Most of these can be done at your GP surgery. They include taking your pulse to check the rate and rhythm, your blood pressure (ideally less than 140/90), and a urine test to check for diabetes.

Blood tests are also useful which may include a cholesterol check. This should be a fasting blood test to be as accurate as possible. Another useful test is a CRP which checks for inflammation as heart disease may be caused by inflammation of the arteries.

Other tests that are not commonly available by your GP are:

Homocysteine - an amino acid detected in the blood and believed to be an early marker for heart disease.  Available from Pulse Health Screening.
Pulse Wave Analysis - a painless test that measures the stiffness of the arteries by a special medical device. If you live within 25 miles of Bedford, you can book a consultation to have this test for just £38.  Click here for details.

Lifestyle Recommendations

There is much you can do to prevent CVD, so here are a few suggestions.

1)     Do not smoke

2)     Limit alcohol - max. 2 units a day for women and 3 units for men.

3)     Exercise - at least half an hour, three times a week. This should significantly increase your heart rate.

4)     Maintain a healthy weight.

5)     Drink 2 litres of water a day.

6)     Limit salt, sugar and artificial additives

7)     Avoid hydrogenated vegetable oils/fats and instead choose olive oil.

8)     Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables (at least 5 portions a day)

9)     Eat at least 2 portions of oily fish a week or supplement with fish oils to keep up your Omega 3 fatty acid intake

For those with CVD, supplements containing vitamin B6, B12, folic acid, Vitamin C, CoEnzyme Q10 and L-arginine may be beneficial to support the cardiovascular system.  A nutritionist will be able to advise on what is best for you.

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Disclaimer: The information in this article should not be regarded as medical advice.  If you are receiving medical treatment or taking prescribed medication, you are advised to consult your GP or health practitioner before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle.