It’s not just about us correcting your misconceptions, it’s about you knowing and caring for your own heart, which beats to give you life.
A common misconception is that ONLY people who are overweight or obese are susceptible to bad heart health.
While we do not deny that being overweight or obese is a major risk contributor to heart diseases, there are other risk factors which increase the chance (such as lifestyle, age, family history as well as health conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol). In fact, on the other end of the spectrum, being excessively underweight appears to have an equal risk too.
Let’s take a look at some common myths regarding heart disease:
Myth 1: Underweight people will not have heart issues
As previously mentioned, there are many other risk factors that one would have to take into account. A study conducted found that among the population below 40 years old, those who are underweight had a 2.3-fold greater relative risk of heart diseases as compared with those with normal weight.
For those who are underweight due to malnutrition, not only is the body deprived of necessary nutrients but the body is forced to slow down in order to preserve energy. The heart muscles, in particular, shrinks and weaken, making it more difficult to pump blood and circulate at a normal rate. When weak cardiac muscles are unable to pump at a healthy rate:
- The heart rate declines as the heartbeat slows abnormally (bradycardia).
- Results in low blood pressure.
- A higher chance of heart failure.
Other than that, underweight individuals tend to have false confidence in their quota to consume unhealthy food such as fast food or processed food. They may have increased blood sugar, blood pressure or blood cholesterol levels even if the effects do not show up immediately. On the other hand, due to the subtlety of where fat cells can accumulate, people who are underweight may experience central obesity where fat gathers around the abdomen which increases the risk of heart disease than those with regular obesity (evenly distributed fat).
Myth 2: Having enough good cholesterol can help to balance the negative effects of bad cholesterol.
Now it’s true that not all cholesterol is bad for you. Certain kinds of cholesterol are needed for optimum health and are required by your body for critical functions such as hormone production and cell formation. Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream via proteins called lipoproteins.
The two main types of lipoproteins are :
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) more commonly known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol: The majority of your body’s cholesterol is LDL. High LDL cholesterol levels increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) known as the ‘good’ cholesterol: HDL transports cholesterol back to the liver to be flushed from the body, thus high HDL cholesterols can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Even so, the two levels do not balance out each other as LDL cholesterol can still build up in the walls of your blood vessels if your body has high amounts. The accumulation of cholesterol is called a plaque and as the plaque continues to build up over time, this causes a narrowing of your blood vessels. Thus, blood flow to and from your heart and other organs might be restricted or even blocked. Angina (chest discomfort) or a heart attack can occur when blood flow to the heart is obstructed.
Myth 3: Fats are bad for your heart
Fats often get a bad reputation. We were told to exclude it from our diets as much as possible and began to opt for everything low-fat. However, there are actually different types of fats and some types of fat are even good for your heart. Know the difference below:
Raises LDL, surpresses HDL
Not As Good Fats
|Eating too much can raise LDL
Fatty cuts of beef, pork, lamb, high fat dairy food, biscuits etc.
|Reduces LDL, increases HDL
Nuts such as almond, cashew, pistachio, avocado
Reduces LDL, increases HDL
Omega 3: Salmon, flaxseed, chiaseed, etc.
Omega 6: Sesame seeds, soybeans, tofu, etc.
According to the American Heart Association, polyunsaturated fats can minimize your risk of heart disease and stroke by lowering harmful cholesterol levels in your blood.
A healthy diet typically consists of :
- Variety of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Healthy protein sources
- Healthy dairy sources
- Minimally processed foods
- Minimized intake of added sugars
- Food prepared with little or no salt
- Limited or preferably no alcohol intake
You may also refer to the Mediterranean Diet or the DASH diet
Myth 4: Diabetes won’t affect my heart
This is a big myth, in fact, did you know individuals with diabetes are more than twice as likely to die from heart disease or suffer a stroke? When you have diabetes, your body is unable to utilize all the sugar thus the sugar adheres to your red blood cells and accumulates in your blood. This build-up damages and obstructs the blood vessels that transport blood to and from the heart, as well as the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels, depriving it of oxygen and nutrition.
A major method for establishing blood glucose control is to keep track of total carbohydrate consumption. Adults and children should limit their daily consumption of free sugars to less than 10% of their overall calorie intake, according to WHO guidelines. A further reduction to less than 5%, or approximately 30 grams (6 teaspoons) each day for adults, might bring even more health advantages.
Myth 5: Having high blood pressure is normal nowadays. It won’t cause heart issues.
Don’t mistake what is “common” to be normal and safe. High blood pressure is known as the ‘silent killer’. High blood pressure causes the blood to flow more forcefully through your arteries, potentially damaging the arterial walls and making the arteries less elastic —— reducing blood and oxygen flow to your heart which then leads to heart disease, such as :
Angina: A type of chest discomfort
Heart attack: When the blood supply to the heart is cut off and the heart muscles begin to die due to the lack of oxygen. The damage the heart suffers increases as the duration of restricted blood flow increases.
Heart failure: Disorder where your heart is unable to adequately pump blood and oxygen to other organs
Do you know how your sodium intake affects your blood pressure?
Sodium increases your blood pressure because sodium draws water into your bloodstream, and high sodium consumption will cause too much water to be drawn in. The increase in water would increase the volume of blood in your blood vessels, which raises your blood pressure.
Sodium can come from table salt, sauces (soy sauce, ketchup, BBQ sauce, mayonnaise etc.) as well as canned food and processed foods.
For most individuals, especially those with high blood pressure, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg per day, with an ideal limit of 1,500 mg for most adults. We suggest using herbs or spices to flavour your food as 1 level teaspoon of salt generally would already contain 2300mg of sodium.
Nevertheless, even a 1,000 mg sodium reduction each day can help with blood pressure and heart health.
Blood pressure is also affected by Magnesium. Magnesium is essential for the proper functioning of hundreds of physiological systems, including blood pressure, blood sugar, muscle and neuron function. Magnesium is required to help relax blood vessels too.
According to research, Magnesium supplementation may be effective for decreasing blood pressure in the general population.
Myth 6: I’m still young, I don’t have to worry about heart diseases until I am older
We’ve all heard about compound interest in the financial world. But do you know all habits have compounding effects too? The process of atherosclerosis (the buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on your artery walls) can begin early in childhood, especially in people who have diabetes or are smoking. Studies have shown that even at the age of 10 years old, early signs of atherosclerosis have been observed.
We would also suggest not using tobacco products or smoking. This is because smoking damages your blood vessels and accelerates artery hardening, thus raising your risk of heart disease significantly. Smokers have a two to four times greater risk of coronary heart disease than non-smokers. The carbon monoxide in cigarettes also depletes oxygen in the blood which increases blood pressure and heart rate.
Drinking too much alcohol raises blood pressure to unhealthy levels too which may then progress to affect your heart muscles causing heart failure. It is suggested for women to limit themselves to one drink each day and two drinks per day for men.
Go for regular checkups to manage risk factors such as blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol. Cholesterol testing should be done on a regular basis - those who are aged 20 and above who are at low risk of heart disease should be tested every 5 years. Doctors would prescribe more frequent cholesterol screenings for those with higher risk factors such as family history of heart diseases or a child with obesity / diabetes. Remember to stay active which helps to manage stress, cholesterol and blood pressure levels and to maintain a healthy diet.
Myth 7: Antioxidants have nothing to do with heart health.
Eating a diet rich in antioxidant-containing foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, is linked to a reduced risk of heart and blood vessel disease. Vitamin E may help protect LDL or fat in body tissues from oxidation while Vitamin C may scavenge free radicals and prevent their entry into LDL particles, therefore preventing LDL oxidation too. This is important because the oxidation of LDL particles in the vascular wall is thought to be the initial step in plaque formation.
Moreover, a number of fruits, including grape, blueberry, pomegranate, apple, hawthorn, and avocado, have been extensively researched and proved to have high heart preventive properties. Fruits' exceptional antioxidant and free radical scavenging activities are thought to be important and contribute to their heart-protective mechanisms.
Grape Seed Extract
Many are thus interested in Grape Seed Extract because it contains rich antioxidants (including phenolic acids, anthocyanins, flavonoids, and oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs). OPCs are 20 times and 50 times more potent than Vitamin C and E respectively. By slowing the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol and minimizing damage to heart tissue during times of stress, grape seed extract may help to maintain heart health such as to improve blood circulation by strengthening capillaries, arteries, and veins, as well as improving the flexibility of arteries and heart tissues. Grape seed extract has also been shown to help in regulating blood pressure levels.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
On the other hand, Vitamin B1, or Thiamine is required for the synthesis of acetylcholine. This is the substance that allows your body to communicate with its nerves and muscles. Your heart would not function properly without this connection. Thus, a deficiency of Vitamin B1 can affect the normal function of the heart.
Myth 8: Heart disease is more of a men’s disease
The threat of heart disease impacts both males and females. In fact, women may worry more about getting breast cancer even though data shows heart disease may kill three times as many women every year. Before menopause, women may have a little lower risk of heart disease compared to men however after menopause the risk would be the same as in men.
Based on the Department of Statistics Malaysia (November 2021), Ischaemic heart disease was the principal cause of death for both males and females in 2020.
What’s interesting is that women are more likely than men to experience symptoms of heart attack that are unrelated to chest pain such as nausea or vomiting, pain in one or both arms, sweating, unusual fatigue and indigestion or heartburn. Women are also more likely to suffer blockages in their smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart (a condition known as small vessel heart disease or coronary microvascular disease).
Lastly, emotional stress contributes to the onset of heart attack symptoms and compared to men, women are more prone to develop disorders as a result of stress. Because women's heart attack symptoms differ from men's, they may be identified with heart disease less frequently than males.
Myth 9: If you have heart disease, you need to take it easy
Being physically active is beneficial to your heart! The American Heart Association recommends at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week for overall heart health. However, your doctor will assist you in developing an exercise regimen that is suitable for you. Unless your doctor tells you not to exercise, it is always recommended to stay active, even simple activities like walking can help to strengthen your heart muscles and improve circulation.
Your heart is like a high-performance engine, a strong, muscular pump at the size little larger than a fist. Your heart beats approximately 100,000 times and pumps about 6000-7500 Litres of blood each day. In the average 70-year lifetime, your heart would have beaten more than 2.5 billion times, that’s a lot of work done in order to circulate the blood to bring oxygen and nutrients to all of the body’s organs and tissues as well as pick up waste products from the body’s cells and transported to be filtered out of the body via the kidney, liver and lungs.
In Malaysia, heart disease is still the leading cause of death. Heart disease is responsible for about one out of every four fatalities. Thus, heart disease is a serious condition so do take care of your heart health no matter your age. Many people who appear to be healthy may place false confidence and not receive frequent blood tests or consult a physician to evaluate their risks. They also take their youth for granted by not taking care of their diet instead of incorporating a healthy diet that also consists of healthy fats, high antioxidants (Vit C, E, Grape Seed Extract), low sodium, and sufficient magnesium.
Show your love to your heart today ❤️
Kimberly Ling S.A, Dietitian
BSc (Hons) in Dietetics with Nutrition
International Medical University
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