BY DR. LIN WEEKS-WILDER
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in America for both men and women, claiming 1 million lives annually. Unfortunately, lowering bad cholesterol alone won’t be sufficient. Like many of the chronic diseases affecting all of us, heart health can be mitigated by diet and exercise. Exercise is critical. All too many of us make excuses for ourselves and deprive ourselves of one of the best cures for whatever ails us—sweat. Let’s discuss other myths about heart health that you should discuss with your doctor.
Statins prevent heart attacks in people with high cholesterol
The unfortunate truth about the absolute effect statins have is that the answer depends upon whose data you believe. Your doctor is expected to follow the upgraded guidelines released by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, and these guidelines recommend statin therapy for all adults over 21 with a history of heart disease, diabetes, or a greater than 7.5% risk factor (a calculated ratio of age, gender, systolic blood pressure, and LDL) of developing heart disease in the next 10 years—which equates to almost all of us.
As always, one has to weigh the effectiveness of any drug to the ratio of benefit to risk. The risk and benefit data for statins varies considerably among experts. One could assume that such broad prescriptions for statins assume benefits significantly exceed risk, but the growing list of well-known complications of statin therapy—muscle pain, digestive problems, rash or flushing, diabetes, neuropathy, liver damage, atrial fibrillation, memory loss, and confusion—are not trivial. Discuss other options with your doctor.
It’s normal for blood pressure to rise with age
There’s no data to support this claim. Blood pressure is an important criterion in determining our cardiovascular health; but much of the control of our blood pressure resides in our life style and dietary choices rather than age. Healthy diet and exercise habits help lower blood pressure.
A low-fat diet helps prevent high cholesterol
For decades, low fat diets have been prescribed as healthy—not true! Our bodies rely on fats for joints, collagen, cellular regeneration, and many other essential functions, as long as we eat the ‘right’ fats, such as coconut, olive oils, and butter from grass fed animals. Avoiding the dangerous trans-fatty acids found in margarine, fried foods, pastries that increase our LDL (bad cholesterol) levels is critical.
Diabetes won’t threaten your heart as long as you take your medication
This is a very dangerous myth. Diabetes is one of the primary risk factors for heart disease and is increasing in all age groups and ethnicities in the western world at a frightening rate. Almost entirely preventable through diet and exercise, diabetics can avoid or mitigate cardiac complications through simple life style changes.
You should avoid exercise after having a heart attack
Not true! Exercise is a critical component for an individual recovering from a heart attack. However, cardiac rehabilitation experts should create and supervise each person’s specific guidelines.
Ten Ways You Can Protect Your Cardiovascular Health
- If you smoke or use any tobacco products, stop. The data are fairly incontrovertible: Smoking is a primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- If overweight, decide to lose weight by changing what, when, why, and how you eat. There are many non-medical experts to help you do this; you can safely assume that you are overweight because you need to change your dietary habits.
- Exercise consistently most days of the week for a minimum of thirty minutes; sixty minutes is better.
- Sleep seven to eight hours each night. Insomnia is very common for all of us and seems to increase with age; thought to be simply annoying, lack of sleep is extremely stressful on us physically; the cellular regeneration that occurs naturally with deep sleep is essential for the health of our bodies.
- Consider cutting out sugar from your diet. When we’re young, we can safely eat those pastries, ice cream sundaes so long as we work off the excess calories. As we age, however, our metabolism changes and we must work to keep fat from accumulating.
- Cut down on carbs—breads, pastas, and the like—with the goal of eliminating them; to our bodies, those whole wheat bagels and breads work exactly like sugar and can turn very quickly to fat.
- Stop thinking of your age as a diagnosis.
- Avail yourself of the experts in order to become an expert on your own health: There are many excellent sources of great information; among my favorites are:
http://www.mercola.com http://www.amazon.com/Live-Too-Short-Die-Long/dp/0553351931 http://www.amazon.com/Head-First-Biology-Healing-Spirit/dp/0140139656/ref=pd_sim_b_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=1XS0PVMFC09R7VT784A6
9. Develop a consistent prayer or meditation time.
10. Decide to partner with your doctor regarding your health: Understand that what he or she prescribes may not be in your best interest, but is rather a standard guideline and that medical training teaches doctors about disease, not health. If your doctor is uncomfortable with the idea of partnering with you, consider finding another doctor.
Dr. Lin Weeks-Wilder spent more than 30 years in academic health centers ranging from critical care nurse to hospital director for more than 26 years. Once featured in TIME Magazine, Dr. Weeks-Wilder has published over 38 articles and 6 books. Her latest is a novel, The Fragrance Shed by a Violet, which can be purchased at http://www.amazon.com/The-Fragrance-Shed-Violet-Wilder/dp/1630632619