The number one killer and biggest health concern affecting North Americans is heart disease. Also known as Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), it refers to any disease of the heart and blood vessels, including myocardial infarction (heart attacks), hypertension (high blood pressure), arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), coronary artery disease (reduction of blood to the heart muscle due to narrowing arteries around the heart), stroke, congestive heart failure (inability of heart to pump enough blood to the body’s organs) and many others. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, 31% of deaths in Canada are due to heart disease, and every 7 minutes someone in Canada dies from heart disease.
Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, being overweight, physical inactivity, diabetes, stress, excessive alcohol intake, poor diet, family history, and aging (http://www.heartandstroke.com). Most of the risk factors for heart disease can be minimized or eliminated.
Too often, patients resort to prescription medication with adverse side effects when research shows that diet and lifestyle changes and natural therapies can effectively combat heart disease. Clinics offering scientific-based treatments to prescription medication are accessible and are growing in popularity.
There are many laboratory tests and physical examinations that can be performed to help determine a patient’s risk of developing heart disease, many of which often are not performed on routine visits to your medical doctor. These tests include:
C-Reactive Protein (CRP): A protein that useful in determining future risk of heart disease. It can be elevated years in advance of having a heart attack or stroke and is also highly predictive of heart attack and stroke reoccurrence (J Periodontal, 2008. 79:1544-1551).
Fibrinogen: is another protein that is involved in blood clotting. Research shows that although a person may have elevated cholesterol levels, if fibrinogen levels are low they are likely to have a low incidence of heart disease (Arterioscler Thromb, 1994. 14: 54-59). Fibrinogen should be checked with annual blood work, however it seldom is.
Homocystiene: is an amino acid that research has shown higher levels to be associated with a significant increase in the risk of heart disease (N Engl J Med, 1997. 337: 230-236).
Apolipoprotein B: a form of cholesterol that research has shown to be a better indicator of heart disease than total cholesterol or LDL (Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol, 2009. 27: 661-70).
These blood tests can be performed by a Licensed Medical or Naturopathic Doctor to determine the right treatment for a patient with heart disease.
The most important and fundamental component of the prevention and treatment for heart disease is modification to diet and lifestyle. The well studied “DASH” diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) which encourages the consumption of nuts, whole grains, fish, chicken, fruits and vegetables while lowering the consumption of red meats, sweets, and sugar has as been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure and risk of death from heart disease (New Eng J Med 1997; 336: 1117-24). Several studies have examined a Mediterranean type diet that includes more fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans) and healthy fats, and found it is beneficial for decreasing heart disease mortality (Circulation, 1999. 99: 779-85: Arch Intern Med, 1998. 158: 1181-87: Eur Heart J, 2002. 23: 277-285). This diet includes minimal consumption of meat, butter, cream, deli foods, which contain high levels of saturated fats and cholesterol, and limited consumption of simple carbohydrates (sugar, honey, processed foods, and white flours). Instead, it focuses on increasing consumption of complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans) and soluble fiber (oats, barley, psyllium, eggplant, okra) and omega-9 and 3 fats (olive oil, fish oil and flax oil)
The importance of appropriate weight maintenance for heart disease prevention can not be understated. Over half of the North American population is over weight and these numbers continue to rise. One study showed that for both men and women, the most significant health concern observed related to body weight was increased blood pressure (JAMA 1999; 282: 1523-29). Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association used a waist circumference of 100 cm (36 inches) as a reference point and showed that each increase of 15 cm corresponded to a 60% increase in the risk of cardiovascular death (JAMA 1993; 269: 483-7).
Exercise is also extremely important for cardiovascular health. A sedentary lifestyle is considered to be one of the most important modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Research shows approximately half the incidence of heart disease in active compared to sedentary persons. (Ind J Med Sci; 2009; 63: 33-42). One study found that after only eight weeks, exercise alone significantly lowers markers of heart disease. Exercise consisted of 25-45 min of either use of stair-stepping machines and stationary bicycles and reaching the individuals target heart rate three times per week. (Am J Clin Nutr. 2004; 80: 1159-66).
Perhaps most importantly, smoking cessation is arguably the single most important intervention in preventing cardiovascular disease. Smoking has been associated with a fourfold increased risk of heart disease, and a greater than 70% excess rate of death from heart disease (Am J Med. 1992; 93: 8-12). If you smoke, quitting is the most important lifestyle change you can make to prevent heart disease.
Once lifestyle is addressed, several options exist to both treat and prevent heart disease. Nattokinase is an enzyme from soybeans that has shown to thin the blood and help prevent blood clots from forming (J Biol Chem, 2001. 276: 24690-24696). One study involving patients with high blood pressure who received nattokinase for 8 weeks, showed that their blood pressure decreased significantly compared a control group who did not receive the nattokinase (Hypertens Res, 2008. 31: 1583-1588). Another study looked at the effect of nattokinase in patients with an increased risk of blood clots. Only 7% of patients receiving nattokinase experienced a blood clot vs 19.6% of patients not receiving the treatment (Angiology, 2003. 54: 531-539).
Another effective treatment for heart disease is intravenous EDTA Chelation therapy. Research shows that EDTA removes calcium buildup from blood vessels, reduces cholesterol, reduces injury to blood vessels and reduces blood clot formation (Circulation, 1999. 99: 164-165). In one study, patients who received a series of intravenous EDTA treatments over six weeks showed improved blood vessel function and decreased levels of homocystiene (mentioned above as an indicator of heart disease risk) (Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol, 1999. 26: 853-856). Another study examined patients with peripheral vascular disease (obstruction of blood vessels in arms and legs, another form of heart disease). When EDTA was given intravenously, symptoms and blood work showed significant improvements in 91% of patients treated (J Natl Med Assoc, 1990. 82: 173-177).
Due to the astounding numbers of North Americans afflicted with heart disease, it is now more important than ever to understand the risk factors and treatment options available for this highly prevalent disease. Patients need to be aware of the medically studied options that exist for the prevention and treatment of heart disease. It is essential to seek supervision from a physician knowledgeable in these approaches to ensure that you are receiving the best care possible for your individual needs. We must begin to proactively treat this disease and shift our focus towards wellness.
Wishing you the best of health and keep that ticker tickin’!