There are many cardiovascular disease risk factors of which to be aware. While all of these factors are serious, it is important to remember that with a diet based on heart healthy foods, nutritional supplements, and exercise, you can prevent and even reverse these cardiovascular disease risk factors. Below are some of the most common risk factors.
Asymmetric Dimethylarginine (ADMA) – This modified amino acid is a better indicator of endothelial dysfunction than the blood level of cholesterol.
Smoking – Tobacco smoke has about 4,000 different substances in it, and any of them can cause problems with your blood vessels. Even second-hand smoke damages blood vessels and speeds up plaque formation. There are several poisons, one being nicotine, that damage blood vessels. John P. Cooke, M.D., Ph.D. and head of vascular research at Stanford University School of Medicine has shown in his research that nicotine can cause plaques and tumors to grow much more quickly. (Short-term use of nicotine patches or gums to stop smoking is safe).
Obesity – Excess body fat is a cardiovascular disease risk factor that puts strain on the heart, elevates blood pressure, and raises cholesterol levels. It also increases the chance of developing diabetes. Overweight individuals tend to lead more sedentary lifestyles, have high blood pressure, and higher blood sugar levels, which all can damage to the endothelium.
High Blood Pressure or Hypertension – This disorder is caused by too much pressure of the blood against the blood vessel walls and heart. This damages both the blood vessels and heart over time. High blood pressure may be caused by high levels of circulating hormones such as angiotensin and adrenaline. These “stress” hormones are useful if you are in a flight-or-fight situation, but if they are constantly increased, then blood vessels will form free radicals that can damage the endothelium and reduce production of nitric oxide.
Diabetes – Often termed the silent epidemic, diabetes involves high blood sugar levels, which seriously increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you have excessive amounts of sugar in the blood, the sugar sticks to the proteins in the blood vessels. These “glycosylated” proteins function abnormally, and the body does not recognize them. The body’s immune system thinks they are a foreign substance and may attack them. This results in inflammation in the blood vessel wall that can damage the vessel and speed up hardening of the arteries or arteriosclerosis (the general term for any hardening of the arteries; atherosclerosis is hardening of the arteries caused by fatty deposits of plaque in the arterial wall).
High Cholesterol – While high cholesterol is a heart disease risk factor, to what extent depends on several variables. If you have a healthy endothelium that produces adequate nitric oxide, then cholesterol is not much of a risk factor. Knowing your HDL to LDL cholesterol ratio is also an important factor, as your body needs plenty of HDL cholesterol for the structure of our cell membranes.
Homocysteine – This cardiovascular disease risk factor is a modified amino acid that comes from another amino acid, methionine. Our bodies can produce methionine, and we also ingest it from protein we eat. Methionine is converted to homocysteine in a chemical reaction that is important for cell function. However, homocysteine in high levels can damage endothelial cells. The most common reason for high homocysteine levels is vitamin B deficiency. Supplementing with B vitamins can lower homocysteine, and l-arginine or antioxidants like vitamin C may reverse the effects of homocysteine.
C-reactive protein (CRP) – CRP is a protein found in the blood, the levels of which rise as a response to inflammation. Recent research indicates that patients with elevated basal levels of CRP are at an increased risk of diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Stress – Stress is another cardiovascular disease risk factor that can cause damage to the blood vessels. Like other muscles in your body, blood vessels contract and expand according to signals from the nervous system. Fear, anxiety, and stress can activate nerve fibers in the blood vessels, which release adrenaline-like substances into the vessel wall, causing it to either relax or constrict. This helps explains why angina (chest pain) can occur when you have blood vessels that are narrowed by plaque, by activating the nerves in the blood vessels, causing them to constrict.
Vasoconstrictor nerves activated by anger or other stron emotions also stimulate the adrenal gland to release adrenaline into the blood stream. Adrenaline causes the heart to race, along with constricting vessels in the skin and gut, and relaxes vessels to the heart and brain. This is in order to redirect blood to where it is needed in a fight-or-flight situation. Adrenaline also improves the ability of blood to clot. This reaction is beneficial in certain situations, but not if you feel stress from work, traffic for example.
Parasympathetic nerves are ones that slow the heartbeat and cause blood vessels to relax and open. Obviously it is better for these nerves to have more influence over your coronary arteries and heart. This should be the goal with any stress reduction plan.
Sedentary Lifestyle – Is a cardiovascular disease risk factor that makes you twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke than an active person. Exercising daily benefits cardiovascular health in many ways. Exercise increases your production of good cholesterol (HDL) and decreases your production of bad cholesterol (LDL). It also reduces your blood sugar levels, stress hormones (adrenaline), lowers your resting heart rate and blood pressure, helps with weight loss, and directly benefits the health of your endothelium and blood vessels. Even moderate daily exercise, such as vigorous walking for 30 minutes, can help add years to your life.
One quarter of the Unites States population suffers from at least one cardiovascular disease risk factor, but by taking proper steps through a heart healthy diet, nutritional supplements, and exercise you can take steps toward preventing and even reversing heart disease