Cardiovascular disease is the class of disease that involve the heart or blood vessels. It’s the most common cause of death in the UK and includes coronary heart disease, angina, heart attacks and stroke.
Coronary heart disease
Coronary heart disease is caused by a gradual build up of fatty deposits on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. This causes the artery to narrow and makes it harder for your heart muscle to get enough blood and oxygen. The medical term for this condition is atherosclerosis and the fatty material is known as atheroma.
Over time, an artery may become so narrow that it can’t deliver enough blood and oxygen to your heart, especially when you’re exerting yourself. Angina is a feeling of heaviness, tightness or pain in the middle of your chest that may extend to, or just affect, your arms (especially the left), neck, jaw, face, back or abdomen.
It’s most often experienced during physical activity – if you run for a bus, for example, or climb stairs. It may occur in cold weather, after a heavy meal, or when you’re feeling stressed. It can subside once you stop what you’re doing and rest, or take medication.
A heart attack occurs when a piece of the fatty atheroma breaks away from the artery wall and causes a blood clot to form. If this clot then blocks the artery, the heart muscle will be starved of blood and oxygen. A heart attack is a medical emergency and if you suspect that you or someone else is having one it is essential that you call 999 immediately.
Stroke is caused by the blockage of an artery carrying blood to the brain. This can be due to fatty deposits narrowing the arteries supplying the brain, a blood clot blocking an artery or a blood vessel in the brain bursting. Damage caused by stroke can affect your bodily functions and mental processes.
Cardiovascular disease is often called a silent killer because many people have very few symptoms. Often the first indication of cardiovascular disease is experiencing a heart attack or stroke.
In some cases the progression of cardiovascular disease may be accompanied by warning symptoms. These include:
- Angina pain (see above)
- Unusual breathlessness
- Abnormal accumulation of fluid, for example in the ankles or legs
- Bluish-tinged fingernails or lips
These symptoms are by no means always due to cardiovascular disease, and can be harmless or caused by other medical conditions. However, if you experience any of them it’s a good idea to make an appointment to see your doctor.
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
- Being overweight or obese
- A family history of heart disease
- Increasing age
- Ethnic group – some ethnicities carry a higher risk of cardiovascular problems. South Asian people living in the UK, for instance, have a higher risk that the rest of the UK population.
Cardiovascular disease requires good prevention and proper management. Making small changes to your lifestyle can reduce your risk of developing it in the first place, and even if you do have it, it’s important to take steps to keep your heart healthy and reduce risk of future problems.
Testing for cardiovascular risk
Cardiovascular disease as well as risk factors such as high cholesterol often run in families. If you have a family history of cardiovascular disease or fall into one of the risk factor categories, a Comprehensive Cardiovascular Test screens for many types of cholesterol as well as other known risk factors for cardiovascular disease. It can be an invaluable preventative screening that allows intervention before a problem occurs.
Diet: a diet high in saturated fats, salt, alcohol, caffeine and refined, sugary foods can accelerate the development of cardiovascular disease. For prevention an adequate intake of fruits, vegetables, fibre and essential fats is important.
Achieving this can be a daunting task, especially in our busy modern lives. Smart Nutrition can give you guidance and practical tips on how to alter your diet for lifelong heart health.
Nutritional deficiencies: cardiovascular disease is often exacerbated by a collection of nutrient deficiencies.
A full Heath MOT Test is an excellent way of finding out exactly which nutrients you need to top up. It will give you a comprehensive overview of your nutritional status as well as providing an insight into your disease risk. Any deficiencies can then be identified and corrected before they become a problem.
High homocysteine: homocysteine is a chemical naturally produced in the body. When levels are kept within check it doesn’t pose any health risks. However, if the body’s ability to break homocysteine down becomes compromised, it can gradually accumulate, potentially contributing to cardiovascular disease, mental health problems and many other conditions.
High homocysteine can be easily treated with a specially designed supplement programme and diet. You can have your homocysteine levels tested first (and this testing is also included in the Comprehensive Cardiovascular Check Test.)
Oxidative damage and inflammation: a healthy antioxidant defence system helps the body defend against heart disease progression which is exacerbated by unstable chemicals called free radicals.
Normally the body has very good mechanisms for mopping up free radicals before they do us any damage, but exposure to high levels or a body that’s not properly supported can overwhelm the defence mechanisms.
An Oxidative Stress Analysis measures how well our bodies are coping with free radicals. Once identified, oxidative stress can be managed through nutritional therapy using a combination of diet, supplements and lifestyle changes. This can be a useful step in preventing disease onset and slowing progression.
Stress: the physical response to stressful events is an increased secretion of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase blood pressure by causing the heart to beat faster and blood vessels to constrict.
This is a survival mechanism designed enable us to run away from danger and avoid bleeding to death. The pressures of modern living mean stress can become chronic, so this survival mechanism never fully switches off, resulting in permanently overstressed cardiovascular system. This extra pressure increases the chance of detrimental changes such as atheroma or blood clot formation.
If you have a stressful lifestyle, an Adrenal Stress Test can assess stress levels and identify ways to support the body. Smart Nutrition can also work with you to put together a specific diet, lifestyle and supplement plan to reduce your stress response and lower your cardiovascular risk.
Being overweight: studies show that being obese or overweight is linked to several factors that increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. These include high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type II diabetes.
Losing weight has many health benefits and can significantly reduce cardiovascular risk.
Nutritional therapy can help to guide and motivate you through a programme of safe, sustainable and effective weight loss. Use the link at the bottom of this page to find out more about Smart Nutrition’s consultations.
Lack of exercise: regular physical activity can support a healthy heart and lower disease risk we well as delivering many other health benefits.
If you need to look after your cardiovascular health but do little physical activity, Smart Nutrition’s nutritional therapists can help you to put together an appropriate and enjoyable exercise regime as part of your cardiovascular health plan.