It always seems to happen out of the blue. Nobody can see a heart attack or stroke coming. That’s why many people forget about the risk, and don’t realize until either it’s too late or it happens to somebody they know and care about. While not always possible to predict, certain factors are indicative for a higher risk and understanding your risk for a heart attack can help you live a healthy lifestyle that minimizes the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Heart attacks and strokes are both triggered by a blocked artery. Arteries extend throughout the entire body. They carry blood rich in oxygen from the lungs to the heart, the brain, and all the way to the toes and fingers. Healthy arteries ensure that the whole body is provided with oxygen through blood flow.
When someone suffers a heart attack, an artery leading to the heart is blocked and can’t provide the heart with oxygen. Similarly, a stroke happens when an artery leading to the brain is blocked. Even though it may feel sudden, blocked arteries don’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process of plaque build-up on the inside of an artery wall.
Certain factors lead to the gradual build-up of plaque in the artery walls. Most of us will have some level of plaque build-up starting as early as the teenage years. This plaque can continue to accumulate until eventually it completely blocks the artery. Let’s find out some of the major causes of plaque build-up.
Main factors contributing to plaque build-up in the arteries
Even though it has a bad name, cholesterol itself is actually very important for the body to function. It is needed to build cell membranes that protect the inner content of the cell, and also for maintaining levels of certain hormones and vitamin D. It is so important that our body produces cholesterol itself, – from protein, carbohydrates, and fat. This happens mainly in the liver. The danger arises when too much cholesterol is produced, and this happens when we eat a lot of processed food that contain trans fat. The liver gets stimulated to create more cholesterol that we need, and the cholesterol manifests in plaque in the artery walls.
- High blood sugar
When we eat a lot of sugar, our insulin levels go up to bring this sugar to our cells. However, these cells are already full which means that the blood sugar goes up. Extra sugar molecules attach to protein and cause irritation and inflammation. The immune system’s reaction to inflammation of the artery leads to swelling of the plaques, which over time can cut off blood flow.
- High blood pressure
High blood pressure itself doesn’t build plaque, but it irritates the artery walls, causing the inflammtation that speeds up the plaque build-up. So in combination with high cholesterol and high blood sugar, this can be particularly dangerous.
How to minimize the risk of heart attack and stroke
Understanding where the clogged arteries come from is the first step in prevention. Here is what we can do to minimize high cholesterol and high blood sugar and limit risk.
1.Eating whole foods
Trans fat and sugar are found in processed foods, but sometimes their presence is hidden.
Trans fats are a byproduct of the hydrogenation process – the process used to turn healthy oils into solids and prevent them from becoming rancid. The obvious offender here is margarine, but trans fats may also be hiding in store-bought cookies, commercial pastries, and french fries.
Research conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health claims that reducing calories from trans fat by 2% daily will decrease the risk of heart disease by 23%. This means even small dietary changes can go a long way!
Cutting down on processed foods will also have the added benefit of reducing sugar intake. Most ready-made sauces, dry vegetable stock, and microwave meals have more sugar than we need. Always make sure to read the small print of the packaging when buying groceries.
2.More vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and an antioxidant that can help prevent plaque enlargement.
Foods that are rich in vitamin E include broccoli, spinach, nuts, sunflower seeds, avocado, fish, plant oil, squash, and pumpkin. Ingesting vitamin E through foods is believed to be preferable to taking supplements.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. That translates to about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every single day.
On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.
Smoking damages blood vessels and also leads to build-up of plaque in the artery walls. At the same time it reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, raises your blood pressure, and increases the likelihood of blood clots.
Although it may seem daunting at first, taking steps to minimize your risk of heart disease and stroke can be easy. Though it’s never fully predictable, small lifestyle changes can make a big impact on your risk of heart attack or stroke and at the same time will also have positive impact on other aspects of your health.