When it comes to heart attacks and many other health issues, prevention is by far better than cure. Most heart attacks are the result of coronary heart disease, a condition that clogs coronary arteries with fatty, calcified plaques. And though the step-by-step process that leads to a heart attack is not fully understood, major risk factors are well-known. Outlined below are several means of reducing your risk of getting a heart attack.
You probably know that cigarette smoking causes breathing problems and lung cancer. But did you know it also makes you more likely to have a heart attack? According to WebMD, every cigarette you smoke makes you more likely to get heart disease. Roughly one out of five deaths from heart disease is directly related to smoking. People who smoke are two to four times more likely to get heart disease.
For more than five decades, we’ve been brainwashed to believe that saturated fat causes heart disease. It’s such a deeply ingrained belief that few people even question it. It’s just part of our culture now.
But several recent studies have confirmed what many researchers have known all along: eating saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease. Saturated fats also protect against oxidative damage – one of the primary causes of heart disease. What’s more, saturated fats have numerous other health benefits.
There is a robust body of research indicating that the risk of sudden cardiac death is reduced when consuming higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Going all the way back to 2002, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study titled, “Blood levels of long-chain n-3 fatty acids and the risk of sudden death,” which found the “n-3 fatty acids found in fish are strongly associated with a reduced risk of sudden death among men without evidence of prior cardiovascular disease.”
Another 2002 study, published in the journal Circulation, found that Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduces total mortality and sudden death in patients who have already had a heart attack. For additional research, view our dataset on the topic of Omega-3 fatty acids and the reduction of cardiac mortality.
Additionally, an analysis of randomized trials since 2003 suggests that regular fish consumption or consumption of fish oil would reduce total mortality or deaths by 17 percent.
In 2010, the Journal of Biomedical Sciences reported that heart risks are significantly lower in individuals who excrete higher levels of magnesium, which indicates its protective role. Another study published in the journal Atherosclerosis in 2011 found that low serum magnesium concentrations predict cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. Remember that when you are looking to ‘supplement’ your diet with magnesium go green. Chlorophyll is green because it has a magnesium atom at its center. Kale, for example, is far better a source of complex nutrition than magnesium supplements. But, failing the culinary approach, magnesium supplements can be highly effective at attaining a therapeutic and/or cardio-protective dose.
Antioxidant-rich foods protect against heart disease in a number of important ways. Our antioxidant defense system is what protects us from oxidative damage, which as you now know is a major risk factor for heart disease. Strengthening this system has two sides: reducing our exposure to oxidative stress and increasing our intake of antioxidant-rich foods. When most people think of antioxidants, they think of fruits and vegetables like dark, leafy greens and fruits like berries. But while it’s true that these foods are rich in antioxidants, what a lot of people don’t know is that red meat and organ meats are also very rich in important antioxidants that aren’t found in significant amounts in plant foods.
A good rule of thumb is to eat the rainbow, choosing a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables, as well as organ meats, meats, eggs, and grass-fed dairy.
Exercise has been shown to reduce LDL (low-density lipoprotein) particle concentration even independently of diet. Regular exercise prevents the development and progression of atherosclerosis, improves lipids, and reduces vascular symptoms in patients that already have heart disease. The benefits of exercise are related to maintenance of body weight or weight loss, blood pressure control, return of insulin sensitivity, and beneficial changes in lipids, all of which in turn promote endothelial stabilization and vascular health.
In addition to distinct periods of exercise, it’s also important to sit less and stand and walk more. In fact, some research suggests that this “non-exercise” physical activity may have a greater impact on our cardiovascular health than exercise.
Stress increases the risk of cardiovascular disease in numerous ways. It increases intestinal permeability, impairs blood sugar control, depresses immunity (which increases the risk of infection), contributes to fat storage in the liver, and promotes the consumption of comfort and junk foods. But perhaps the most significant contribution stress makes to cardiovascular sickness is that it promotes inflammation. Stress has been shown to increase circulating inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), both of which are associated with heart disease.
On the other hand, stress management can have a profound impact on heart disease risk. One recent randomized trial showed that regular meditation decreased the risk of death from heart attack, stroke and all causes by 48 percent – a much greater reduction than what is observed with statins even in the highest risk population.