Heart disease is still the biggest cause of death in the UK, but the good news is that in most cases it is preventable. Understanding what poses the most risk to you, and making simple and achievable life changes, could be the best thing you have ever done.
There are several causes of heart disease, and most people who experience a heart attack, or stroke, have a combination of factors that put them at increased risk. Fortunately it’s possible to recognise the factors that present the most risk to you, and modify those risks. By doing so you can capitalise on the truism that “prevention is better than cure” – and look forward to a healthier future.
Smokers often say that the habit relaxes them, but in fact the nicotine in cigarettes makes the heart beat faster, raises your blood pressure and stimulates production of the stress hormone adrenaline. Smoking also thickens the blood making it more likely to clot and cause a heart attack. The antioxidants in cigarette smoke damage the lining of the arteries allowing bad cholesterol to form plaque called atherosclerosis which is the main cause of heart attacks and stroke.
Prevention: If you smoke, resolve to quit now. Find help at
* BHF Smoking Helpline 0800 169 1900 BHF’s Giving Up Smoking website
* Quitline® 0800 00 22 00 www.quit.org.uk
* NHS Smoking Helpline 0800 169 0 169 www.gosmokefree.co.uk
* ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) 020 7739 5902 www.ash.org.uk
This is a measure of the pressure in your blood vessels as the heart pumps blood through the arteries. When the heart contracts blood pressure is at its highest point. In a blood pressure reading this is the systolic pressure. When the heart relaxes between beats the lowest pressure – the diasystolic pressure is recorded. The pressures are written as two numbers with the higher pressure first. Ideally blood pressure should be below 130/80 for the lowest risk of heart disease. Most people’s blood pressure fluctuates during the day, but always increases in stressful situations. If you have high blood pressure (hypertension) your blood pressure is constantly higher than the recommended level.
High blood pressure causes damage to artery walls making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis.
Prevention: To maintain a healthy blood pressure or reduce hypertension to take enough physical activity, be a healthy weight, do not eat too much salt or drink too much alcohol, and eat a healthy balanced diet.
Being overweight puts as much strain on the heart as it does on joints and muscles. Carrying excess weight, especially around the waist increases your risk of heart disease. Losing just a modest amount of weight, as little as 5-10% of your starting weight, reduces your risk.
Prevention: The healthiest way to lose weight for your heart is to avoid crash diets and lose weight at a slow, steady rate of 1-2lbs or half a kilo a week by reducing portion sizes and calorie intake in combination with being more physically active. However, even slim people can be at increased risk if they have atherosclerosis.
Diabetes occurs when levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood are too high. This happens either because not enough insulin is produced or it is not very effective (insulin resistance). Insulin is needed to move glucose from the blood to the cells. People with Type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of heart attack because if undiagnosed, or poorly controlled, too much glucose remains in the bloodstream instead of being taken up by the cells. Excess sugar damages the arteries making it easier for atherosclerosis to occur.
Prevention: In most people Type 2 diabetes, can be prevented by being physically active and a healthy weight. Abdominal fat increases the risk of diabetes. Women should aim to have a waist measuring less than 31.5in. For Asian men aim for less than 35in, or 37in for white and black men.
Cholesterol and Atherosclerosis
Raised cholesterol levels are a widely acknowledged risk for heart disease. Too much bad (LDL) cholesterol is caused, in most cases, by eating an unhealthy diet, especially too much saturated fat, and not being active enough. When there is too much LDL cholesterol it is in danger of being damaged through oxidation. Oxidation of LDL is caused by highly active molecules called free-radicals produced during normal body processes and by exposure to smoking and other pollutants.
Surprisingly even people without raised levels of LDL cholesterol can still have life-threatening atherosclerosis if their diet does not contain enough antioxidants to prevent oxidation. Half of all strokes and heart attacks occur in people who do not have raised LDL.
Prevention: Preventing atherosclerosis is possible by eating an exemplary diet containing enough of the right sort of antioxidants, taking enough exercise, not smoking, avoiding high blood pressure, not having Type 2 diabetes and being a healthy weight with a healthy waistline.
The Mediterranean Diet is scientifically acknowledged to be an exemplary diet for heart health and risk reduction for stroke. Much of the heart benefit in the diet comes from the antioxidant lycopene in tomatoes that are eaten daily in the Mediterranean diet. Lycopene has been shown in studies to be the most beneficial antioxidant for heart disease; where vitamin E and beta-carotene have not proved successful, lycopene has.
Numerous studies have shown that the higher the levels of lycopene in the body the lower the rate of oxidation of LDL cholesterol. But the intake in a typical UK diet is only around 1mg per day and as clinical studies of a new lycopene-based supplement Ateronon® show to prevent oxidation we need a lot more.
A daily capsule of Ateronon®, which is also known as the tomato pill, provides 7mg lycopene in a unique patented form that combines lycopene with whey protein and soy making it easily bioavailable so that it can be used effectively by the body. In clinical studies Ateronon® lowered LDL oxidation by more than 90 per cent within two months in both heart patients and healthy individuals. Unlike cholesterol-lowering medications such as statins, Ateronon has no reported side-effects. It can also be taken safely alongside statins and other heart medications.