Heart Health

The heart beats about 2.5 billion times over the average lifetime, pushing millions of gallons of blood to every part of the body. This steady flow carries with it oxygen, fuel, hormones, other compounds, and a host of essential cells. It also whisks away the waste products of metabolism. When the heart stops, essential functions fail, some almost instantly.

Given the heart's never-ending workload, it's a wonder it performs so well, for so long, for so many people. But it can also fail, brought down by a poor diet and lack of exercise, smoking, infection, unlucky genes, and more.

A key problem is atherosclerosis. This is the accumulation of pockets of cholesterol-rich gunk inside the arteries. These pockets, called plaque, can limit blood flow through arteries that nourish the heart — the coronary arteries — and other arteries throughout the body. When a plaque breaks apart, it can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Although many people develop some form of cardiovascular disease (a catch-all term for all of the diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels) as they get older, it isn't inevitable. A healthy lifestyle, especially when started at a young age, goes a long way to preventing cardiovascular disease. Lifestyle changes and medications can nip heart-harming trends, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, in the bud before they cause damage. And a variety of medications, operations, and devices can help support the heart if damage occurs.

Heart Health Articles

Experts urge intensive lifestyle measures for lowering triglycerides

In recent years, scientists have learned more about how triglycerides contribute to atherosclerosis, the clogged arteries that raise the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. High triglyceride levels are often correlated with low HDL and a type of LDL cholesterol that is particularly likely to produce harmful deposits in the arteries. High triglyceride levels are also a component of another heart disease risk factor — metabolic syndrome, a condition that occurs in most people with type 2 diabetes and includes high blood pressure and a large waist size. The American Heart Association (AHA) issued a scientific statement about triglycerides and cardiovascular disease that sets a new, lower optimal level of triglycerides and recommends intensive lifestyle measures for reducing elevated triglycerides. (Locked) More »

Surviving a heart attack: A success story

  Heart attack survival rates are much higher than they were a few decades ago, thanks to greater awareness, new clot-busting drugs, and expanded access to specialized cardiac treatment centers.   More »

Health by the numbers

Statistics on statin use show a decrease in LDL cholesterol levels in those who take the medications, but for people who don't want to or who cannot handle the possible side effects, dietary changes can have similar benefits. For example, you can fill your meals with foods that contain a lot of soluble fiber, which binds to cholesterol in the digestive system before it has a chance to get into the blood. You can also steer away from foods that contain saturated fat and trans fat, which are known to increase LDL cholesterol. Many people take red yeast rice supplements to lower their LDL. Researchers have shown that red yeast rice, in combination with fish oil and lifestyle changes, can be just as effective as a statin at lowering LDL cholesterol.  (Locked) More »

June 2011 references and further reading

Markel H. "When it rains it pours": endemic goiter, iodized salt, and David Murray Cowie, MD. American Journal of Public Health 1987; 77:219-29. Dasgupta PK, Liu Y, Dyke JV. Iodine nutrition: iodine content of iodized salt in the United States. Environmental Science and Technology 2008; 42:1315-23. Tayie FA, Jourdan K. Hypertension, dietary salt restriction, and iodine deficiency among adults. American Journal of Hypertension 2010; 23:1095-102. (Locked) More »