“A 45 year old man died of heart attack in Gujarat’s Rajkot, while playing cricket.”
“A 22 year old college student collapsed while running on a treadmill in Ghaziabad, UP.”
“A 36 year old engineer suffered a massive heart attack while dancing on stage at a wedding in Bangalore, and died.”
Such news headlines are shocking to say the least. Singer KK, comedian Raju Srivastava, TV actor Siddharth Shukla, and actor Puneeth Rajkumar have all met similar fates in recent times.
In fact, 25% of all mortality in India is attributed of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), making it the leading cause of mortality in India. Apart from a high fatality rate, what’s alarming is the early onset of the disease and the accelerated build-up due to which it is now affecting people in their 30s.
Studies have also noticed heart attack in women on the rise. According to a study by the Indian Council of Medical Research and Registrar General of India, India accounts for approximately 60 per cent of the world’s heart disease burden.
In this blog we will attempt to explain – Cardiovascular Disease, key indicators of heart health, how to recognize heart attacks, conventional treatment protocols for heart attacks, reasons for the increasing cases of heart attacks and what you can do to protect your heart.
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What is Cardiovascular Disease?
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is called ‘heart disease’ in common parlance. It is a term for a group of problems that affect the heart and blood vessels. These problems include blocked artery, weak heart, strange heart rhythms, and problems in the brain that are a consequence of blocked or bleeding blood vessels.
The most common type of heart disease is when the arteries in the heart become narrow or get blocked, causing chest pain or heart attack. The term ‘heart failure’ refers to the inability of the heart to pump enough blood. As a result, you experience tiredness, breathlessness, and swelling in your hands and feet.
Abnormal heart rhythms or ‘arrhythmias’ can make your heart race. You may feel dizzy, or even faint. It can also increase your chances of experiencing a stroke.
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to your brain gets cut off. This is likely to happen when the artery walls get clogged with the deposition of fatty material on the walls, which makes it hard for the blood to flow freely. This phenomenon is called ‘Atherosclerosis’.
Signs of heart health
Now that you know what basically is Cardiovascular Disease, the next question that would come to your mind is – how do we know we are at risk?
Well, there are 7 key risk factors which can help us in assessing our heart health. They are as follows:
The normal heart rate (resting) for adults is usually between 60 to 100 beats per minute. Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. For instance, athletes and yoga practitioners have a normal resting heart rate closer to 60 beats per minute. If your resting heart rate is consistently outside the resting heart rate zones – above 100 beats a minute (tachycardia) or below 60 beats a minute (bradycardia) – along with other signs or symptoms, such as fainting, dizziness or shortness of breath, it maybe the sign of an underlying problem. Your maximum heart rate (or the highest number of beats your heart can pump per minute when it is under high stress) can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220. That is, if you are 40 years old, your maximum heart rate should be (220-40) 180 BPM.
Blood pressure can vary with respect to the physiological conditions. It is low when you are in a state of rest or sleep, and increases beyond normal blood pressure range during periods of stress, sympathetic mode or exercise. However, if the baseline itself is high, then you experience high blood pressure symptoms (hypertension). If your blood pressure is less than 100/60, then you experience low blood pressure symptoms (hypotension). When the BP stays in the range of 110/70 to 120/80, it is a sign of a healthy cardiovascular system. If the Blood Pressure readings are beyond 140/90, it signifies ill-health which needs to be addressed properly.
Blood Pressure chart
Cholesterol levels particularly Triglyceride/HDL ratio reflects how well the body is utilizing energy. TG/HDL <1.3 indicates that you are insulin sensitive. If your cholesterol ratio or TG/HDL is beyond this limit, it indicates insulin resistance, which is the common denominator of cardiovascular disorders particularly, heart attacks, strokes and hypertension. It would therefore be advisable for you to switch to a cholesterol diet.
If your energy level is high, it reflects good cardiopulmonary reserve and insulin sensitivity. On the other hand, low energy levels or chronic fatigue symptoms may be a sign of heart failure due to decreased ability of the heart to pump blood. It is therefore important to consult a functional medicine specialist to examine the low energy causes and boost energy levels. He may recommend some supplements that act as natural energy boosters and increase energy naturally.
Respiratory rate varies with the pulmonary reserve and capacity. Usually, the higher the respiratory rate, the lower is the pulmonary capacity and vice-versa. Low to normal respiratory rate indicates healthy lungs with good oxygenation. This is also often seen in yoga practitioners and athletes. Therefore, it is advisable to learn some breathing exercises and breathing techniques. Deep breathing benefits the lungs and helps improve lung capacity.
Good Cardiovascular Endurance capacity & Rate of recovery (strenuous exercises/activities)
You should aim to improve endurance. Your ability to stretch and push limits during exercise and activities depends mainly on the cardiopulmonary reserve and the formation of good collateral circulation in the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. Young individuals are often encouraged to build endurance by involving themselves in sports and physical activities that increase collaterals in the heart. This can support them later in life, even when they suffer heart attacks. Moreover, the recovery heart rate or Heart Rate Recovery (HRR) can also be a useful indicator of cardio vascular health. HRR is the difference between the highest heart rate reached during exercise and the heart rate shortly after you stop exercising (usually one minute). An HRR of 68 indicates a very healthy heart, while an HRR of 12 or less may predict mortality risk from cardiovascular events.
Oral health care
Importance of oral hygiene must be stressed. The consumption of ultra-processed foods – especially excess sugars and refined carbs – affects the oral microbiome and can cause tooth decay, periodontitis and gum disease symptoms. Oral health may have an impact on the cardiovascular system through inflammatory responses. Though it may not necessarily be a causation, but there is definitely a strong correlation between oral health and heart disease. Consult your dentist for more dental health tips.
The general perception is that heart disease occurs all of a sudden. However, that is not true. Although the impact of heart disease may occur all of a sudden in the form of strokes/attacks, it develops over a long period of time (5-7 years), like all other chronic diseases. The point is, you should be able to recognise the early signs and adopt a preventive approach before it becomes fatal.
How to recognize a heart attack?
Heart attacks come with certain immediate symptoms. It would be of great help if you are able to recognize signs of a heart attack. These common heart attack symptoms include; chest pain or discomfort (that typically radiates to the left arm and left shoulder, jaw, neck or throat), dizziness, fainting, fatigue, palpitation and unusual sweating. You might also experience nausea, vomiting and indigestion.
Sometimes, it may even be asymptomatic (without chest pain), especially in the case of diabetics. In such cases, you should watch out for the other symptoms to recognize a silent heart attack. One easily available tool for the detection of acute coronary syndrome is ECG.
The ground for heart attacks is prepared over time. One of the main heart attack causes is the collection of cholesterol, fat, blood cells and other substances on the walls of the arteries that cause the arteries to become narrow. When there is formation of a blood clot in one of more chambers of the heart, it blocks the flow of blood, resulting in a heart attack.
Understanding heart attacks
For our purpose, it is important to understand what happens during a heart attack. The ‘golden hour’ for heart attack treatment is typically less than 3 hours, but may extend up to 6 hours from the start of the symptom during which thrombolysis (treatment to dissolve blood clots) can save the heart muscles from going into infraction (dying due to lack of oxygen supply). Percutaneous coronary intervention or angioplasty is an effective emergency procedure especially if it is done within 90-120 min of the onset of symptoms. After 120 minutes, restoring circulation at the site of thrombosis cannot reverse the infracted or damaged myocardium (heart muscles).
However, in actual practice, patients often reach the hospital after the golden hour. If the patient has intractable chest pain that does not respond to Optimal Medical Therapy (OMT), then stenting or bypass is done as an elective procedure within 1-2 weeks in most cases. OMT is a combination of blood thinners, beta blockers (to manage abnormal heart rhythms) and calcium channel blockers (anti-hypertensive drugs). Statins (drugs that lower cholesterol) may also be used in the first few months to prevent further events due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
It is to be noted here that stenting is often done when the blockages are 50-70% (called stenotic plaque).
‘But the problem is that 70% of heart attacks occur due to the rupture of non-stenotic plaques, which are neither detected in angiograms, nor on treadmill/stress ECHO. Hence, the whole purpose of stenting and bypass in an elective setting can be deemed questionable.’
Why is the number of heart attacks rising?
The primary reasons for the increase in the number of heart attack cases in the last 30-40 years are ultra-processed food, stress, lack of sleep, inflammation, smoking, insulin resistance and high insulin levels, which cause ectopic fat deposition in the blood vessels.
Heavy metal toxicity and environmental toxicity can also increase inflammation and are therefore one of the major factors contributing to heart attacks. In particular, mercury seems to collect in the heart muscle and valves. In fact, in some cases the presence of mercury in the heart muscles and valves is 22000 times more than in the blood.
Heart attacks statistics suggest a noticeable rise in heart attacks post-COVID. This may be due to the viral infection itself or vaccine induced. Although COVID infection has increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in the first few weeks of the infection, most of the heart attacks that have occurred mainly in young adults and middle-aged people are often attributed to the vaccine injuries induced by a spike in protein.
Protecting your heart for life
There are certain steps that you could take to protect your heart. To begin with, there are some do’s and don’ts with respect to what you should consume. Read on to know how to protect your heart:
- Avoid smoking and alcohol
- Avoid inflammatory oils and fried foods (especially vegetable and seed oils)
- Avoid wheat, rice and dairy (except A2 ghee and buttermilk)
- Limit sugar consumption to less than 2 teaspoons a day
- Avoid simple carbs, consume complex carbs (carbs with fibers) instead
- Consume green, leafy vegetables (daily), healthy fats and proteins
It is noteworthy here that good fats, such as monounsaturated fats (found primarily in olives, avocados, coconut oil, certain meats and nuts) are known to have beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease risk markers, and help to protect your heart from heart attack.
Apart from the above, certain lifestyle changes could also do your heart a great deal of good. Therefore, the following are some beneficial heart protection tips for you to follow:
- Practice Yoga and Pranayama to improve blood flow in the heart, brain and other vital organs
- Exercise regularly, for both strength and endurance. It helps collateral circulation
- Practice grounding and expose yourself to sunlight. It strengthens your cardiovascular system
- Have good, uninterrupted sleep for 7-8 hours everyday
- Practice gratitude and lead a stress-free life
Supplements for better heart health
Nutrition from the food you eat may not always be enough. You might also need certain supplements that can improve not only you heart, but overall health as well. These are as follows:
- Omega 3s help to reduce inflammation, lower triglycerides and improve overall heart health
- CoQ10 is an antioxidant that helps in energy production, improves heart function and reduces risk of heart failure
- Vitamin Bs help to regulate the amount of homocysteine in the blood which is associated with the possible risk of blood clots formation in the bloodstream
- Vitamin C helps in the long term maintenance of arteries
- Vitamin D is essential as low levels can be correlated to more occurrences of heart attacks and strokes
- Magnesium has a calming and soothing effect, helps reduce blood pressure and improve heart function, apart from other body functions
- Garlic is a potent antioxidant and anti-bacterial compound that have blood pressure-lowering effects and may help reduce the risk of heart disease
- Berberine helps lower cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, and improve insulin sensitivity
The increase in the number of heart attack cases lately, has been alarming. While some of it is being related to Covid infection or the side-effects of vaccination, the increase is mostly due to dietary and lifestyle changes in the last 30-40 years. Factors such as ultra-processed food, sedentary lifestyle, stress and lack of sleep have triggered the early onset of Cardio vascular disease.
In order to prevent heart attacks, you should monitor the 7 key indicators as given in this blog. Changes in diet and lifestyle are also a necessity, along with supplements that help in improving heart health. If you are wondering how to change your diet plan, our expert team of nutritionists at Wellfinity would be more than happy to help.