Health & Beauty | October 2009
|Heart Disease Prevention Myths|
Stephane Leung, MD, M.Sc - AskMen.com
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October 01, 2009
As North America gets ready for another flu season and the U.S. is in the midst of extreme health-care reform, it is clear that health issues pervade our current affairs. Nevertheless, heart disease remains our No. 1 killer across the U.S. and Canada, and readers should be well-versed in some of the myths related to heart disease as simply being male puts us at higher risk of later developing a heart attack. Here are some heart disease prevention myths.
Taking an aspirin a day helps to prevent heart attacks
In order to understand the role of aspirin in heart disease, we first need to understand how a heart attack develops. Blockage of the coronary arteries starts with the development of a “fatty streak,” secondary to cholesterol and fat in the blood stream. This progresses to form an atherosclerotic plaque that narrows the arteries and impedes blood flow. When this plaque ruptures, a clot forms with the aid of cells, called platelets, resulting in complete occlusion of the artery, thereby leading to a heart attack or myocardial infarction. Aspirin is known as an anti-platelet agent and prevents platelets from clumping together, thereby helping to prevent the formation of a blood clot in the arteries of the heart.
Aspirin usually comes in two different doses: a 325 mg tablet and an 80 mg tablet also known as a “baby aspirin.” While it is recommended to chew on a 325 mg tablet during an active heart attack when someone is having chest pain, it is not recommended for everyday use in the prevention of heart disease unless specified by your doctor. Risk factors for the development of coronary artery disease such as hypertension, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, and diabetes may prompt your doctor to start you on a baby aspirin once a day for prevention. However, even low dose aspirin may have severe side effects, such as the formation of peptic ulcers and stomach bleeds that can cause death. As a result, although it may be quite safe to take an aspirin if you suspect onset of a heart attack, everyday aspirin use should be decided by your physician.
Red wine is good for the heart
We have all heard that a glass of wine a day is good for the heart. This idea comes from a study published in The Lancet, which found that, although there was a clear correlation between high intake of saturated fats and coronary heart disease, this correlation did not hold in France where the consumption of fatty foods was high. This paradox was later attributed to the nation’s alcohol consumption, particularly, red wine.
It was later found that red wine, in particular, has beneficial health effects. Red wine has several antioxidants known as polyphenols that can prevent damage to heart cells. Other chemicals in wine, such as resveratrol, have been shown to have blood thinning properties that can help prevent heart attacks, similar to the role of aspirin. Moreover, wine can lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. However, all of these benefits require red wine consumption in moderation -- meaning no more than one to two glasses per day.
You can always feel when a heart attack is coming
Classic signs of a heart attack include chest pain radiating to the jaw or arms, occasionally accompanied by sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and palpitations. These symptoms are usually precipitated by physical activity and relieved by rest. Such symptoms can even occur without physical exertion, in which case it is often misinterpreted as stomach upset, although in fact alluding to more severe heart disease.
In a subset of people, particularly the elderly and those with diabetes, the onset of a heart attack is not accompanied by any chest pain, but rather may be associated with fainting, fatigue or labored breathing. The reason for this in diabetic patients is that their sensory capacity is often impaired. Regardless, any unusual chest discomfort, especially at rest, should prompt a quick visit to the ER.
Heart disease only happens in late adulthood
Although heart attacks typically occur in males beginning in their 50s and 60s, the process that blocks the coronary arteries begins much earlier. In fact, a recent study published in the journal Atherosclerosis revealed that by age 19 “fatty streaks” develop in the coronaries of certain youth. These fatty streaks are indicators of early coronary artery disease and later develop to the plaques that lead to heart attacks. Ideally, cholesterol levels should be checked every five years, starting at the age of 40, and more frequently if you are diabetic or have a previous history of heart disease.