The Importance of Learning About and Fighting Against Cardiovascular Disease

Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2014, February). The importance of learning about and fighting against cardiovascular disease. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.

 

The Importance of Learning About and Fighting Against Cardiovascular Disease

Michael Garko, Ph.D.

Host & Producer of Let’s Talk Nutrition

Introduction

It becomes nearly impossible for people to age successfully or otherwise to live a long life with quality of life if they suffer from cardiovascular disease (CVD). February is American Heart Month. While the intention of American Heart Month is to raise awareness, February should not be the only month of the year people focus on their cardiovascular health.

Here are some questions to test your knowledge about CVD: Do you know what cardiovascular disease (CVD) is? Do you know whether heart disease and cardiovascular disease mean the same thing? Can you distinguish among the various types of CVD? Do you know the different diseases of the heart and blood vessels? Do you know the health impact of CVD compared to other degenerative diseases? Do you know whether CVD is more of a health problem for men than women?  Do you know if CVD is a public health crisis taking place primarily in developed countries such as the United States? Do you know whether CVD is more determined by genetics than diet and lifestyle?

If you are unsure about the answer to any or all of these questions, then you might find the February, 2014, edition of Health and Wellness Monthly useful. Reading it will not only inform you about CVD but it may help motivate you to practice good cardiovascular health and prevent you from becoming a CVD statistic. Specifically, this month’s Health and Wellness Monthly is devoted to defining CVD, identifying its various types and showing why anyone interested in preserving and protecting his/her health needs to learn about CVD.

Defining CVD

Contrary to the popular belief that it is a single disease, CVD in fact signifies various degenerative diseases and disorders of the cardiovascular/circulatory system, which includes the heart, arteries, capillaries and veins. The term “cardio” refers to the heart, while the term “vascular” pertains to the blood vessel system (i.e., arteries, capillaries & veins). Hence, CVD can be defined as a constellation of degenerative diseases and disorders of the heart and blood vessel system.

 

Types of Diseases of the Heart

Diseases of the heart collectively referred to as heart disease include but are not limited to: Coronary artery disease (obstructed heart arteries), coronary heart disease (diseased heart arteries & heart), cardiomyopathy (loss of heart muscle, enlarged or thickened heart), valvular heart disease (heart valves narrowed, leaking or closing improperly), pericardial disease (pericardium or sac encasing heart inflamed, stiff or retaining fluid), congenital heart disease (formed before birth affecting heart muscle, chambers or valves) and congestive heart failure (heart’s inability to pump sufficient amount of blood resulting in shortness of breath, fluid retention & fatigue) (Go et al., 2014; Thomas et al., 2006; Mayo Clinic, 2013).

 

Types of Diseases of the Blood Vessels

Diseases of the blood vessel/vascular system include but are not limited to: Arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis (arterial walls thick and stiff), high blood pressure (excessive force of blood pushing against walls of blood vessels), stroke (interrupted blood flow to brain or ruptured blood vessels in brain), rheumatic heart disease (valves damaged by rheumatic fever), aneurysm (bulge in wall of artery or vein), peripheral arterial disease (clogged arteries to limbs), vaculitis (inflamed blood vessels), venous incompetence (blood flowing wrong way in veins), venous thrombosis (blood clots in veins), varicose veins (veins twisted & enlarged) and lymphedema (obstructed lymphatic vessels causing fluid buildup) (Go et al., 2014; Thomas et al., 2006; Mayo Clinic, 2014).

Of the above mentioned diseases, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and rheumatic heart disease are the four most common types of CVD (Go et al., 2014; Thomas et al., 2006), with coronary heart disease (CHD) being the most common type of CVD. It is important to note that CHD constitutes over 50% of all cardiovascular episodes occurring in men and women younger than 75 years of age and is the single largest killer of both genders. It is the underlying cause of death in approximately in one of every six deaths in America. Further, every 34 seconds someone will suffer a coronary event and every one minute 23 seconds someone will die from such an event. In 2003, CHD caused one of every five deaths in the United States (Go et al., 2014; Thomas et al., 2006).

 

Why It Is Important To Learn About CVD

There are at least five good reasons why as a health consumer you need to educate yourself about CVD.

 

Public Health Enemy #1

First, public health agencies at the local, state, national and international level (e.g., Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association & World Health Organization) consider CVD to be public health enemy number one in the United States and other developed and developing nations The prevalence-incidence statistics and morbidity-mortality statistics associated with CVD show unequivocally that it is a health epidemic that threatens Americans and citizens of other countries  (Go et al., 2014; Thomas et al., 2006; Murray & Lopez, 1997; Mackay & Mensah, 2004).

According to Go et al., (2014), since 1900 CVD has been the leading cause of death in the United States every year except for 1918. Nearly 2500 Americans die from CVD every single day, with an average of one death every 35 seconds. It takes more lives each year than the next four leading causes of death combined (i.e., cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidents and diabetes mellitus).

Internationally speaking, the World Health Organization (see Mackay & Mensah, 2004) reports that CVD kills an estimated 17 million people annually around the world and ranks currently as the leading cause of death worldwide being responsible for one third of all deaths globally. CVD is an epidemic that has spread into developed and undeveloped nations. Seventy-five percent of all deaths attributable to CVD occur in the poorer regions of the world and this is predicted to increase. Health officials warn that by the year 2010 CVD will become the leading cause of death in the more economically prosperous developed countries, a reality that has existed in the United States since 1900 (see Mackay & Mensah, 2004). In short, CVD is a national and international epidemic that cuts a wide swath of global disability and death.

 

Equal Opportunity Degenerative Disease

Second, health officials caution that CVD, generally, and coronary heart disease (CHD), specifically, can no longer be considered health problems for overworked, overweight, overstressed, middle-aged, Caucasian men (Go et al., 2014; Thomas et al., 2006; Mackay & Mensah, 2004). The hardcore health reality is that everyone is at risk, including men and women, young and old, prince and popper. Upper social class standing is not some guarantee or immunity from CVD. CVD invades all social class boundaries and implicates virtually all demographic parameters such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, education, occupation and income. In real health terms, CVD is a potential threat to all those who are ignorant of its propensity to kill or choose just to ignore the warnings of its lethal nature. Decades or research reveal CVD to be an equal opportunity degenerative disease.

 

Conceptual and Terminological Confusion 

Fourth, a considerable amount of conceptual and terminological confusion abounds about CVD.  Paradoxically, much of the confusion has resulted from the world wide attention given to CVD and the effort to inform the public about its health dangers, how to detect it, how to prevent it and how to treat it. Doctors, medical scientists, healthcare practitioners and public health agencies from around the globe created a vocabulary to talk about CVD.

Unfortunately, the terminology used to discuss CVD in all of its various forms has been anything but consistent. For example, heart disease is often used loosely and synonymously to mean cardiovascular disease. Making matters worse, the general public and the media have used CVD terminology in ways that make intuitive sense to them but conflicts with how the health and medical establishment use that terminology. For example, many lay people and even some in media often use heart failure to mean heart attack and heart attack to mean stroke. These terminological mix-ups have resulted in a definitional and rhetorical mess for health consumers, yet another reason to take the initiative to learn about CVD.

 

Knowledge Is Power

Fifth, the more knowledge health consumers have about CVD the more they will appreciate what a health threat it is, the more power they will possess to prevent it and the more motivated they will be to take preventative measures to reduce the odds of becoming a CVD morbidity or mortality statistic. Knowledge is the enemy of CVD. Ignorance and apathy are its allies.

 

CVD Not A Death Sentence

Notwithstanding its grim prevalence-incidence statistics and morbidity-mortality statistics, CVD does not have to be a death sentence. In fact, many types of CVD can be prevented and even reversed through proper nutrition (Campbell, 2004; Haas, 1992). Campbell (2004), a leading nutrition researcher contends that “vascular (arteries and heart) health is possible without life-threatening surgery and without potentially lethal drugs” and “can be achieved simply by eating the right food” (p. 12). He asserts further that diet can reverse advanced heart disease and “eating the right way not only prevents disease but also generates health and a sense of well-being, both physically and mentally” (Campbell, 2004, p. 23).

 

While I agree with Campbell about the role of nutrition in fighting against CVD, eating a healthy diet alone cannot prevent or reverse CVD. Besides avoiding eating an unhealthy diet, it takes eliminating or minimizing other risk factors such as a sedentary life style, excessive tobacco and alcohol use, overweight and obesity, out of range cholesterol and blood pressure levels and diabetes mellitus, to mention some of the more controllable risk factors. Furthermore, eating a healthy diet to prevent and reverse CVD is easy to recommend but not so easily accomplished.  Harmful farming and food manufacturing methods have depleted the earth of vital minerals and food supply of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, respectively. Therefore, maintaining and restoring a healthy cardiovascular system also requires dietary supplementation to counter the nutritional deficiencies of and deleterious ingredients of the foods grown and sold to health consumers.

 

Conclusion

Educating yourself about CVD just may save your life. CVD is preventable and in many instances reversible. CVD does not have to be a death sentence, despite it being the undisputed, uninterrupted, unyielding leading cause of death in the United States for nearly a century.

Preventing and reversing CVD requires knowledge which can then be used to initiate informed action. In that regard, one of the goals of this February, 2014, issue of Health and Wellness Monthly was to contribute to the readers’ knowledge about CVD in terms of what it is and its types and to make an argument underscoring why health consumers need to learn as much as they can about CVD.

The truth be told, CVD is a formidable foe. CVD has ranked as the leading cause of death decade after decade because it is complex and obstinate. Diseases of the heart and blood vessels are stealth-like, which is what makes them so deadly. They silently destroy the health of a person one day at a time, one risk-laden behavior at a time over a long period of time. Too often unsuspecting targets do not know they have been under attack until they experience a heart attack or stroke and either die or become disabled.

CVD cannot be defeated just by good intentions. Rather, counteracting CVD requires knowledge and living a healthy lifestyle that consistently includes, among numerous other factors, healthy nutrition, dietary supplementation and regular exercise. The reader is encouraged to acquire the knowledge and take the necessary action to preserve and protect his/her health from CVD.

 

References

Campbell, T. C. (2005). The China study: Startling implications for diet, weight loss and long-term Health. Dallas, Texas: Benbella Books.

 

Go, A.S.,  Mozaffarian, D., Roger, V.L.,  Benjamin, E.J., Berry, J.D., et al. (2014). Heart disease and stroke statistics – 2006 update: A report from the American Heart Association statistics committee and stroke subcommittee.” Circulation 129, e28-e292.

 

Haas, E. M. (1992). Staying Healthy with nutrition: The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts.

 

Mayo Clinic (2013). Heart disease. Retrieved January, 2014, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/basics/definition/con-20034056.

 

Murray CJL, Lopez A. (1997). Alternative projections of mortality and disability by

cause 1990-2020: Global burden of disease. Lancet 349, 1498-1504.

 

Thomas, T., Haase, N., Rosamond, W., Howard, V., Rumsfeld, J., Manolio, T., et. al. (2006). Heart disease and stroke statistics – 2006 update: A report from the American Heart Association statistics committee and stroke subcommittee.” Circulation 113, e85-e151.

 

Mackay, J. & Mensah, G. (Eds.). (2004). Atlas of heart disease and stroke. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.

 

Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2014, February). The importance of learning about and fighting against cardiovascular disease. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.