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Cardiovascular Disease and Strokes - Reducing the Risk

Contrary to popular opinion, 'heart attacks' and 'strokes' are not sudden, out-of-the-blue occurrences. In most instances the problem has been brewing for many years often several decades.

Cardiovascular 'events' are the biggest cause of death and disability in the UK.

They include: strokes, heart attack, hardening of the arteries, leg ulcers, gangrene and dementia, to mention just a few!


What are the most important risk factors?

Cardiovascular Disease and Strokes - Reducing the Risk
1. High blood pressure (Hypertension)
    What is hypertension?
    Hypertension is a condition of increased pressure of the blood within the arteries. The abnormal pressure damages the artery walls, making them less stretchy and resilient, and more likely to rupture.

    Hypertension is the greatest single risk factor in strokes, and can also precipitate heart attacks.

    Why does blood pressure rise?
    The root cause of most cases of high blood pressure is still unknown, although several factors seem to be involved familial tendencies, lifestyle and diet are all implicated.

    What can be done about it?
    Mild hypertension can often be controlled without the use of drugs. Losing weight, increasing exercise and decreasing stress can all be helpful. Many people respond very well to dietary changes. Ideally these changes should be aimed at reducing other risk factors, as well as lowering blood pressure.

    Moderate or high blood pressure may require some medication, but this can often be minimised by a more holistic approach to the problem.

    Are there ways of reducing other risk factors?
    If there is a family history of stokes or heart problems, it may be advisable to invest in a comprehensive risk profile. This is easily performed from a blood sample taken at a specialist laboratory and measures many different risk factors. The results will usually indicate any appropriate dietary measures.
2. Diabetes and prediabetic states
    Diabetes and prediabetic states produce major chemical changes in the blood. These changes damage the lining of blood vessels and increase the risk of all types of cardiovascular disease, particularly blindness and gangrene. Both drug therapy and diet may be required to control any diabetic condition, and supplementation can often reduce the severity of side effects.
    NB Diabetes must always be treated under the supervision of your GP.
Cardiovascular Disease and Strokes - Reducing the Risk
3. Overweight
    Obesity is a major factor in heart disease. This is particularly true of fat which accumulates on the abdomen (apple-shaped). This type of fat seems to be much more dangerous than the sort that gathers on the hips (pear-shaped). It is particularly associated with prolonged stress, and high consumption of refined carbohydrates.

4. Lack of exercise
    This contributes to high cholesterol levels, obesity and high blood pressure.

5. Increased blood stickiness
    This can be a familial trait or due to diet and lifestyle considerations. Most cases can be improved by diet changes and supplementation.

6. High levels of blood fats of several kinds, not only cholesterol.
    (See the article on Cholesterol Is It All Bad News for further information.)

7. Low levels of protective micronutrients
    A diet deficient in protective vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can aggravate any other risk factors. Low levels of Vitamin C can cause weakened blood vessel walls; Vitamin E deficiency allows cholesterol to go 'rancid' and become more harmful; Selenium is needed to maintain healthy heart muscle; Magnesium deficiency can cause an irregular heart beat.

    Current research is continually reaffirming the protective role of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables.

8. Abnormal levels of several other 'markers'
    Biochemical testing can indicate other areas which can be improved by diet and supplements. For instance: homocysteine, c-reactive protein and lipoprotein(a).

    In general, these factors are far more accurate as indicators of potential cardiovascular problems. Unfortunately they are not yet available as part of the NHS screening tests, so must be arranged privately.

What can I do to help myself?

The good news is that there are signs to look for, and proven ways to reduce the risk. Biochemical testing of blood and/or urine can provide valuable information on risk factors. Nutritional intervention and management can often turn the clock back and reduce your chances of becoming yet another statistic of the Western world's greatest killer.

What is the most effective approach?

A combination of dietary changes, lifestyle improvements and food supplements is usually the most useful approach. Some risk factors are familial, and can require medical intervention also. In these cases nutritional therapy and supplements can help to minimise the dosage, maximise the efficacy, and reduce the chances of side effects.
 
     
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