Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) – the class of diseases involving the heart or blood vessels – is now the leading killer of humans worldwide.
You read that right, more people die annually from CVDs than from any other cause (around 17 million a year at last count).
Simply put, it is the group diseases that poses the single greatest threat to you and your family.
CVDs include all the diseases of the heart and circulation including coronary heart disease (CHD), angina, heart attack, congenital heart disease and stroke.
Worryingly, deaths at a given age from CVD are are on the increase around much of the world.
The numbers are scary. By 2035, nearly half of the U.S. population will have some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.
One in 5 adults in the China already has a cardiovascular disease and the rates there are expected to increase by a whopping 50% between 2010 and 2030!
The most common type of CVD is coronary artery disease. This is where a buildup of plaque causes arteries to narrow decreasing the flow of blood to the heart.
Coronary artery disease and stroke accounts for 80% of global CVD deaths in males and 75% of CVD deaths in females, according to World Health Organisation data.
“By 2035, nearly half of the U.S. population will have some form of cardiovascular disease.”American Heart Association
A new study from the American Heart Association (AHA), projects that by 2035, nearly half of the entire population of the United States will have at least one issue related to cardiovascular disease (CVD).
That is not every person above a certain age. It is 50% of every man, woman and child in America.
A staggering prediction and if the AHA is accurate, a serious health and economic crisis is on the horizon.
In less than 20 years, more than 123 million Americans will have high blood pressure, 24 million will have coronary heart disease, and more than 11 million will have experienced a stroke, the report suggests.
Sadly, better access to medical care and early intervention could save many people from CVD.
High blood pressure (responsible for the bulk of heart disease-related deaths), high blood cholesterol and other treatable conditions raise the risk of heart disease or stroke.
Before we can understand how to treat CVD, we need to understand the deadly process that most often leads to its development – atherosclerosis.
What is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis (pronounced ath-uh-roh-skler-o-sis) is a progressive condition researchers believe begins in childhood and slowly gets worse, obstructing arteries and placing blood flow at risk.
Atherosclerosis is also the most common cause of cardiovascular disease.
Over time plaque, fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances found in the blood – further hardens and narrows the arteries.
Inflammation has been linked to atherosclerosis.
Damage to the endothelial (artery walls) can create inflammation. White blood cells react and the subsequent accumulation of white blood cells (foam cells) begins the process of artery walls thickening.
Atherosclerosis eventually leads to serious health issues, including heart attack, stroke, or even death.
How Does Atherosclerosis Develop?
The majority of problems classified under the umbrella of heart disease are related to atherosclerosis, or the thickening and hardening of the arteries.
Almost everyone develops some degree of atherosclerosis in his or her lifetime.
Atherosclerosis develops when plaque, mostly made up of blood fats like cholesterol and triglycerides, builds up in the walls of the arteries.
This damage to the arterial lining (endothelium) is the key factor that leads to the development of atherosclerosis, which is the underlying cause of most heart attacks and strokes.
Studies suggest that atherosclerosis is linked to inflammation. White blood cells (macrophages) play a major role in the process of plaque build-up and hardening of the arteries.
Our body’s infection-fighting cells, they respond to infection or inflammation, including damage to the lining of our arteries.
These white blood cells accumulate and the atherosclerosis process begins with plaque accumulates over time.
What damages the arteries?
The lining of the arteries can be damaged due to high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, toxic substances like cigarette smoke, high sugar levels or salt levels in the blood from poor diet.
High blood pressure can also damage the inner lining of the arteries.
This damage to the endothelium has a twofold negative effect:
First, it results in a lower production of Nitric Oxide, which in turn leads to constriction of the arteries, higher blood pressure, more plaque formation, further arterial damage, and as a consequence even less Nitric Oxide production.
This destructive and self-reinforcing cycle can lead to heart disease unless broken in some way.
Second, when the arteries get damaged they become stiffer and stickier over time.
This makes them attract more “bad” LDL cholesterol and white blood cells, which then build up in the artery walls forming plaque.
The more cholesterol and fats there are in the blood (hyperlipidemia), the easier it is for arterial plaque to form. Buildup of plaque narrows the arteries and makes it more difficult for blood to flow through.
This can eventually lead to the formation of a blood clot (a process called thrombosis), which can completely block the blood flow and lead to heart attack, stroke, or embolism.
A heart attack or an ischemic stroke (the most common type) occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart or brain, respectively, is blocked by a blood clot.
If this clot cuts off the blood flow completely, the part of the heart muscle or brain supplied by that artery will die. This can lead to death or, in the case of stroke, to loss of ability to carry out normal functions like walking or talking.
In another type of stroke – hemorrhagic stroke – a blood vessel within the brain bursts. The most common cause is uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Other complications due to atherosclerosis include peripheral arterial disease, kidney disease, and erectile dysfunction.
The good news is around 80% of CVD is treatable. If you take action early enough!
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”Benjamin Franklin
Prevention is always better than a cure. Unfortunately, most people revert to treating the symptoms of CVD, after it occurs.
The first step is to get tested and understand your risk!
Unfortunately, early intervention could save many people from having a cardiovascular disease claim their life – the majority of heart disease related deaths occur from treatable conditions, like high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is actually responsible for the majority of heart disease-related deaths.
High blood (LDL) cholesterol, smoking and other conditions that increase the risk of heart disease or stroke, are also preventable or treatable.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , half of Americans (49%) have at least one of those three risk factors for CVD.
“At age 24, your risk for CVD is just 20 percent. By age 45 your chances more than double to 50 percent. Ninety percent of individuals over the age of 80 have some form of CVD.”American Heart Association
While smoking may be on the decline in most countries, other risk factors such as obesity, poor diet, high blood pressure and Type 2 Diabetes are on the rise. This is in part due to a failure of our global health system, but more on that in a moment…
The main risk factor driving the rise in heart disease in the US is obesity. However high blood pressure, high bad (LDL) cholesterol, and smoking are also key risk factors.
The US is not alone in being overweight. Most countries report obesity and poor diet as a main CVD mortality risk factor.
China, with the world’s second largest economy, now vies with the US as the country with the greatest number of overweight citizens.
In 2012, China’s Minister of Health estimated that as many as 300 million Chinese were obese in a population of 1.2 billion, indicating a significant health crisis on the horizon there also if there aren’t drastic changes.
What can I do to prevent CVD?
Generally speaking, engaging in physical activity for at least 30 minutes every day of the week will help to prevent CVDs, heart attacks and strokes.
Eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, and limiting your salt intake to less than one teaspoon a day, can also help according to the experts.
An important step to preventing CVD or indeed other dietary related diseases is to understand how the global food system is failing us and to become vigilant in controlling what you and your family choose to consume.
Several herbs have shown considerable promise in treating the risk factors and metabolic conditions that lead to CVD.