Over the last several years, we seem to have lost sight of the most common killer in our country. Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease accounts for almost 660,000 deaths in America every year. This often silent disease has been the number one killer in our nation for over 50 years.
Consider these two statistics
- Heart disease is missed by our current screening methods in over 50% of affected patients.
While there are almost 400 known risk factors for heart disease (technically 395), our current medical system screens for only five.
- The five risk factors used to screen for cardiovascular disease in our current system today are diabetes, blood pressure, obesity, cholesterol, and smoking.
Let’s dig a little deeper into these numbers and see why I said that cardiovascular disease is “silent” in most people:
- 60% of those who have a heart attack, have less than a 50% blockage of their artery.
- Of men who have a heart attack, 62% have no previous diagnosis of heart disease.
- For women who have a heart attack, this is their first heart disease symptom 46% of the time.
- Half of the people who present to the emergency room with their very first heart attack have normal cholesterol levels.
As you can see, our current methods of screening for the number one killer in our country is woefully inadequate.
So how can you be proactive in preventing the number one cause of death?
The first piece of good news is that there is much new information and research around cardiovascular disease. There is a new field of study either referred to as metabolic cardiology or translational cardiovascular medicine, that looks at the data risk factors and figures on an individual’s personal risk for heart disease. Unfortunately, right now this kind of medicine is only practiced at a few centers around the country, including the Vanderbilt Hypertension Clinic with Dr. Mark Houston, who notably started the very first metabolic cardiology fellowship in the country.
The second piece of good news is that when thinking about heart disease prevention, we can focus on these three root causes of cardiovascular disease (not all 400 risk factors!).
- Oxidative stress
- Immune dysfunction
We’ll discuss inflammation in a future post. So, what is oxidative stress? Oxidative stress is related to compounds called advanced glycation end products, also known as AGEs. Everyone accumulates AGEs as we age. The analogy I think of is that of toasting a piece of bread. As the bread toasts in the toaster, it becomes brown and more brittle, creating those advanced glycation end products or AGEs. So you can imagine how the accumulation of these “toasted”, brittle AGEs in our bodies can cause damage and particularly wreak havoc on our cardiovascular system.
We’ve seen examples of Immune dysfunction (also known as vessel immune dysfunction) play out with the COVID 19 pandemic. In these cases, seemingly healthy individuals contracted what should have been a minimal viral infection. However, after the virus was gone, their bodies continued to become more and more inflamed, in what is called a cytokine storm, sometimes resulting in death. Why is it that seemingly healthy people sometimes have a crazy response to these (and other) viruses? It comes down to immune dysregulation.
In the next three posts on cardiovascular disease, we’ll unpack these a bit and dive into each one. We’ll also take a little bit of a deeper dive into traditional markers for heart disease and how to better evaluate these markers. A comprehensive, personalized health care approach is the best way to address your risk factors around cardiovascular disease.
I hope this introduction to the root causes of cardiovascular disease has been helpful. If you’d like to learn more, please check out our website. We have many more blog posts on these topics. Also, sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. We’ve created an entire educational platform to help you on your self-education journey. These are designed to support you as you are learning about yourself and to give you resources that can help you along your path forward to better health.
Take care and be well.
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.
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