The heart is an organ that works 24/7 to maintain all vital processes in the body. Unfortunately, taking heart function for granted and being careless about lifestyle lead to serious heart conditions such as coronary heart disease.
The world’s biggest killer, coronary artery disease is responsible for 16% of annual deaths worldwide. This disease has caused the largest increase in deaths of any disease since 2000, rising from 2 million to 8.9 million death in 2019.
This malady may strike everyone regardless of age, gender or position in society. For example, it did not pass by Bill Clinton, former United States President. Clinton had severely clogged arteries that doctors said had placed him in grave danger of a major heart attack. After months of suffering from tightness in the chest and shortness of breath, while blaming other diseases of these symptoms, the former president was lucky enough to come to the hospital just in time. He successfully underwent surgery that secured him from a heart attack. What is more important is that Bill Clinton started living healthier: he lost weight and regained control of his health using a diet of beans, legumes, vegetables, and fruit. He suggested a healthy lifestyle as an effective way to reverse the heart condition.
What is coronary artery disease (CAD)?
Coronary artery disease (CAD), also known as coronary heart disease (CHD) or ischaemic heart disease, is a type of heart disease that occurs when the coronary arteries, which supply blood and oxygen to the heart, become narrowed or blocked due to the buildup of plaque on the inner walls of the arteries. This buildup of plaque is called atherosclerosis. Plaque consists of fatty materials in the blood that can decrease blood flow to the heart often resulting in a heart attack.
Main risk factors of coronary artery disease
The main difficulty associated with coronary heart disease is the fact that it begins to develop at a young age and can silently progress for years without any vivid signs or explicit clinical events. Symptoms become more visible in middle and older age. That is the reason to be aware of risk factors so that you can reduce the risk of symptoms arising in the first place.
Smoking is associated with a two-times increased risk of cardiovascular disease for current smokers, and a 37% increased risk for ex-smokers. Even more frightening, second-hand smokers are at 25-30% higher risk of coronary heart disease development.
There are several ways in which smoking can increase the risk of CAD:
Damage to the arterial walls: the chemicals in cigarette smoke can damage the walls of the arteries, which can lead to plaque formation and the development of CAD.
Increased blood pressure: smoking can increase blood pressure, which can put additional strain on the heart and lead to CAD.
Decreased oxygen levels: smoking can decrease the amount of oxygen that is delivered to the body’s tissues, including the heart, which can increase the risk of CAD.
Increased heart rate: smoking can raise the heart rate, which can increase the heart’s workload and lead to coronary artery disease.
Increased clot formation: smoking can increase the formation of blood clots, which can block the flow of blood and result in CAD.
High levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood can increase the risk of plaque build-up in the arteries. Dr. Roberts, the author of the editorial “It’s the Cholesterol, Stupid!”, accuses cholesterol to be the only genuine risk factor for heart disease.
The lower your cholesterol level is the better. The optimal LDL cholesterol level is 50-70 mg/dL. To be heart-attack proof you need to keep your LDL within this range.
High blood pressure can contribute to the development of CAD by putting extra strain on the artery walls. This can cause damage to the blood vessels over time, leading to plaque buildup. When the arteries become narrowed or blocked due to plaque, it can restrict the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart, potentially leading to a lack of oxygen supply to the heart muscle. This can increase the risk of CAD and other serious health problems.
There is a strong association between a sedentary lifestyle and an increased risk of coronary heart disease. People who are physically inactive are more likely to have high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and diabetes, which are all risk factors for coronary heart disease. In addition, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain and obesity, which also increases the odds of coronary heart disease.
Exercise has been shown to be protective against the development of coronary artery disease (CAD). A 2004 case-control study involving over 15,000 participants from 52 countries found that physical inactivity was associated with a 12.2% population-attributable risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack). This study included participants from all continents. These results suggest that being physically active can help reduce the risk of CAD and heart attack.
Obesity is considered to be a cause of coronary artery disease because it is linked to other risk factors for CAD, including diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome. People with abdominal (belly) obesity are at particularly high risk for CAD. More than 80% of CAD sufferers are overweight or obese.
High blood sugar levels can cause damage to the walls of the arteries, which can lead to plaque formation and the development of CAD. Plus, diabetes decreases the amount of oxygen that is delivered to the body’s tissues, including the heart, which can increase the very risk.
Diabetes is also associated with other risk factors of coronary heart disease such as high LDL cholesterol and high blood pressure. These both put additional strain on the heart and may result in CAD. The heart disease rate is 2.5 times higher in men and 2.4 times higher in women with diabetes.
There is a strong association between an unhealthy diet high in trans fats, sugar, and red and processed meat and the development of coronary artery disease. These products contribute to inflammation, elevated blood pressure and weight gain all of these are the risk factors of CAD.
Every 2% of calories coming from trans fat, was found to be associated with a 23% higher risk of CAD. This is due to its negative effects on lipids, the function of the inner lining of blood vessels, insulin resistance, and inflammation.
A systematic review published in 2016 found that consuming soft drinks and sweetened beverages were associated with a 22% higher risk of a heart attack – a result of CAD.
According to recent articles examining the relationship between meat consumption and coronary heart disease, red meat is associated with a 15% to 29% higher risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular events, while processed meat intake is associated with a 23% to 42% higher risk. A typical daily consumption of 50 to 100 grams was used in most studies.
There is an increase in CAD prevalence in both men and women after 35 years of age. Men and women who are over 40 are at risk of developing CAD 49% and 32%, respectively.
Based on the study, men are more likely to develop CAD compared to women, with a prevalence of 19% in men versus 14% in women.
People with a family history of premature cardiac disease (defined as occurring before the age of 50) have up to 50% higher risk of CAD mortality. According to an article, having a father or brother diagnosed with CAD before the age of 55, or a mother or sister diagnosed before the age of 65, is considered a risk factor for CAD.
Main symptoms of coronary artery disease
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a condition in which the arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked. This can lead to a range of symptoms, including:
Chest pain (angina): This is the most common symptom of CAD. It is a feeling of tightness, pressure, or discomfort in the chest that may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, or back. Angina is usually triggered by physical activity or emotional stress.
Shortness of breath: CAD can cause shortness of breath, especially during physical activity. This may be due to a lack of oxygen-rich blood reaching the heart muscle.
Fatigue: CAD can cause fatigue mostly when a person is engaged in physical activity. This is caused by heart muscle lacking in blood rich in oxygen.
Heart attack: CAD can cause a heart attack, which is a medical emergency. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, and the heart muscle begins to die. Symptoms of a heart attack may include chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and sweating.
Heart failure: CAD can lead to heart failure, which is a condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Symptoms of heart failure may include shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling in the legs and ankles.
Nine ways to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease
1Adopt a heart-healthy diet
A healthy diet is an important factor in maintaining good heart health and preventing coronary artery disease (CAD). A diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, and low in saturated and trans fats, salt, and sugar, can help lower your risk of CAD and other cardiovascular diseases. Take a look at the products mentioned below, they can help you to improve your heart health.
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables both contain a healthy amount of vitamins and nutrients, contributing to heart health. Plus, these foods are low in calories, which can help you maintain a healthy weight. Since they are also a great source of fibre, fruits and vegetables help lower cholesterol levels and protect the heart.
A recent meta-analysis revealed that the risk of coronary heart disease dropped by 17% when more than 5 portions (400 g) of fruit and vegetables were consumed each day, compared with fewer than 3 portions.
The study observed the effect of plant intake on 84,000 women and 42,000 men with 14 and 8 years of follow-ups, respectively. The results showed that eating more fruits and vegetables, especially those that are high in vitamin C and green leafy vegetables, may help protect against coronary heart disease. There was a 4% reduction in coronary heart disease risk with each 1-serving/d increase in fruit and vegetable intake.
Incorporating whole grains into your diet can benefit your heart health and mitigate the effects of coronary heart disease. Whole grains contain dietary fibre, which is essential to our health. The consumption of dietary fibre reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke as well as improves your blood cholesterol levels.
The meta-analysis of 7 studies that involved 150,000 people showed that subjects with the highest fibre intake had 29% lower odds of coronary heart disease compared to those with a lower intake.
According to the American Heart Association Eating Plan daily fibre intake should be 25 to 30 grams. Whole grains that can serve as a good fibre source are 100% whole-grain bread, brown rice, whole-grain pasta, and oatmeal.
It is understandable to think that all fats should be avoided if you have coronary heart disease. However not all fats are harmful. In fact, consuming certain types of healthy fats in moderation can actually benefit heart health by lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
Healthy fats are monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats and can be found in nuts, avocados, flaxseed, olive oil and canola oil.
The study found that subjects who ate nuts 1-4 times a week had a 27% lower risk of dying from CAD, and those who ate nuts 5 or more times a week had a 38% lower risk compared to people who did not use nuts at all.
There is evidence to suggest that replacing high-fat meats with heart-healthy lean proteins like fish, beans, poultry, nuts, and low-fat dairy may help prevent heart disease. These protein sources are rich in nutrients that can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and support weight management, which are all important factors in maintaining heart health.
Fish, such as salmon and herring, are a good source of lean protein that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Other lean protein sources include peas and lentils, eggs, soybeans, lean ground meats, and skinless poultry. These can all be part of a healthy diet that promotes heart health.
Compared to diets high in meat, diets low in red meat and high in nuts, low-fat dairy, poultry, or fish were associated with a 13% to 30% lower risk of CHD.
2Reduce your intake of unhealthy fats
Limiting saturated and trans fats is important for preventing coronary heart disease because these types of fats can raise LDL (’bad’) cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.
Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature and are found in foods such as red meat, butter, cheese, and full-fat dairy products. Trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated oils, are found in fried foods and baked goods. Both of these types of fats can raise LDL cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of heart disease.
On the other hand, unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, can help lower LDL cholesterol levels and improve heart health. These types of fats can be found in foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
Limiting your intake of saturated and trans fats and replacing them with healthy unsaturated fats can help reduce the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends avoiding trans fats and consuming only 5-6% of saturated fats of your total daily calories. This means that if you’re eating 2,000 calories a day, only 120 calories (13 grams) should come from saturated fats. This is the equivalent of one tablespoon of coconut oil and one spoonful of butter.
3Be physically active
Physical activity is important in preventing coronary heart disease for a number of reasons. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, helps to maintain a healthy weight and improves blood sugar control.
The study shows that engaging in physical activities of different kinds has a positive effect on dropping the risk of CAD.
The study showed that an hour or more of running per week reduced the risk by 42%, lifting weights for 30 minutes or more per week reduced the risk by 23%, rowing for 1 hour or more per week reduced the risk by 18%, and brisk walking for half an hour or more each day reduced the risk by 18%.
So, to improve your heart’s health you may choose physical activities that appeal to you. It’s generally recommended to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week, or a combination of both. This can be achieved through activities such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing.
4Stay at a healthy weight
Keeping your feet moving is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy heart. As mentioned before, 80% of people having CAD are overweight or obese. Excess weight increases the levels of cholesterol and other fats in the blood, which can lead to the formation of plaques in the coronary arteries. It can also lead to a rise in the very risk by increasing blood pressure, which can cause the arteries to become damaged and more prone to developing plaques. Additionally, excess body weight can lead to insulin resistance, a condition in which the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin, which can increase the risk of developing diabetes. Diabetes is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease.
The study revealed that among 20,000 men those with a BMI (body mass index) of 22.5 kg/m2 had 24% lower odds of total CAD development when compared with subjects with a BMI of 25 kg/m2. Plus the risk of heart attack was also 37.8% lower. Thus, the optimal BMI for minimizing the CAD risk is approximately 22.5 kg/m2 or less.
Tobacco use is a harmful habit that can have negative impacts on your health, including contributing to heart disease. According to the World Health Organization, tobacco kills 1.9 million people annually and approximately 200,000 tobacco-use victims die from coronary heart disease.
Even occasional smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke can increase the risk of heart disease. However, if tobacco users quit immediately, their risk of heart disease will decrease by 50% after one year of not smoking. Taking action to quit smoking can significantly reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
One of the best things you can do for your health is to avoid tobacco in any form. It can be difficult to quit using tobacco, but doing so can improve your overall health, increase your energy levels, and help you live a longer, healthier life.
6Do not drink too much
Moderate alcohol intake has been proven to be protective against CAD in a study that examined subjects from 52 countries. Another study draws a similar conclusion, its results suggest that about 28g of alcohol (2 drinks – moderate consumption) was linked with a lower risk of heart attack (CAD often results in heart attack). However, about 108g of alcohol (9 drinks – heavy drinking) was associated with a higher risk of CAD and myocardial infarction.
Thus, we do not promote alcohol intake but the truth is – moderate drinking has some positive touches in terms of heart health.
It is recommended that men limit their alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day and that women limit their alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day.
7Sleep enough, but not too much
Quality sleep is an important aspect when it comes to maintaining a healthy heart. Sleep may help to prevent coronary heart disease by helping to regulate blood pressure. Studies have shown that people who get insufficient sleep are more likely to have higher blood pressure, which is a risk factor for coronary heart disease.
Plus, sleep may ward off CAD by reducing stress and improving overall mental and emotional well-being. Chronic stress has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, and getting enough sleep can help to reduce stress and promote feelings of relaxation and well-being.
The analysis found that both too much and too little of sleep have a detrimental effect on the heart and rise the CAD development risk. The increased risk is about 48% for short-sleepers (5-6 hours or less), and 38% for those who sleep more than 8-9 hours.
A study conducted at the University of Chicago examined the relationship between sleep duration and coronary artery calcification, which is a predictor of future coronary heart disease, in 495 participants over a five-year follow-up period. The results showed that shorter sleep duration was associated with a higher incidence of coronary artery calcification, and increasing sleep duration by one hour was linked to a 33% decrease in the odds of calcification.
Thus, it is best to sleep 7-8 hours to make your heart healthier and improve overall health.
8Manage your stress
Stress has a negative impact on heart health, for example, anger and fear can lead to elevated blood pressure, a known risk factor for coronary artery disease. To cope with stress, doctors recommend learning relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation or incorporating exercise into your daily routine.
A review of multiple studies and meta-analyses found that work stress was associated with a 10%-40% increase in the risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke.
9Take care of your general health and visit your doctor regularly
Diabetes, high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol are serious health issues. If left untreated, they may result in coronary artery disease. If you have any of these conditions be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s treatment plans and recommendations.
Regular check-ups are a good way to make sure you are on the right health track. Your doctor may opt to prescribe medicine or may see early warning signs of coronary artery disease and recommend diet and exercise changes. CAD can cause serious health issues including chest pain, stroke or a heart attack so if you are not feeling quite right don’t wait to get a chat checked out I just might save your life.
How to keep coronary artery disease away? Let’s summarise
As the death rate from coronary heart disease is on the rise, we should all take better care of our hearts. All it takes is following the lifestyle habits discussed in this article. Not only will implementing and sticking to these habits boost your heart health, but it will also improve your overall health and well-being. Healthy changes and persistence will make a big difference in your health both now and in the long run, so try them out!
Not enough? Here is more from our colleagues
If you want to learn more about coronary heart disease we recommend How Not to Die by Michael Greger. Not only does it provide insight into preventing and dealing with CAD, it also offers tips to have a healthy lifestyle without other chronic diseases that can lead to premature death. This article is, in fact, inspired by the book. It is a must-read for anyone looking to improve their overall health and longevity.
To better understand what CAD is, watch this animated video:
More info about reversing coronary artery disease through the lifestyle choices.
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