How to prevent a heart attack – according to science
Posted on 18 April 2019
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) ranks as the number one cause of death worldwide. More specifically, coronary heart disease (CHD), which includes heart attacks, affects South Africans at an alarming rate of almost a half-dozen cases every hour.
‘Coronary heart disease is the main form of heart disease and is caused by atherosclerosis,’ says Dr. Anil Kurian, a cardiologist at Mediclinic Heart Hospital. ‘Atherosclerosis essentially the clogging of your arteries. This results from a build-up of plaque due to a surplus of unhealthy fats, cholesterol and other waste substances in your bloodstream. While it is a serious condition and can lead to blood clots, it is one that is fully preventable.’
As Dr Kurian adds, bad lifestyle and dietary habits have a direct impact on the increase of CHD. ‘In short, they are the primary cause of this disease,’ he says. ‘More specifically, diets high in refined carbohydrates coupled with and increasing trend towards a sedentary lifestyle not only exacerbates a rise in obesity, but with it an increased risk of heart attacks.’
Other factors play a role too. ‘Hypertension, diabetes and genetics all contribute to CHD, as do various age-related ailments,’ Dr Kurian explains. These are all, however, worsened by bad lifestyle and eating habits.’
‘Cases of CHD are increasingly prevalent in the younger age categories,’ he says. ‘In fact, it seems that those affected are getting younger and younger every year. For example, an increasing number of post-mortems on young victims for other unrelated diseases or motor accidents are revealing arteries at risk of vascular disease 20 – 30 years ahead of time.’
With this in mind, what preventative measures does Dr Kurian suggest to lower your risk of CHD?
Diet: ‘You are what you eat,’ he emphasises. ‘A diet low in refined carbohydrates is a great rule of thumb. Generous helpings of green vegetables together with healthy fats such as fish and avocados form the basis of any healthy eating plan.’
Exercise: ‘Move more,’ Dr Kurian urges. ‘This applies to all age groups. Thirty minutes of low level activity five times weekly is more than adequate to promote good health and control your weight.’
Be aware: ‘Are you experiencing symptoms like chronic heartburn? Pay attention and get checked out by your GP. The earlier any symptoms are presented, the better the prospects,’ says Dr Kurian
Medication: ‘Aspirin is still the gold standard for secondary cases. But there is a move away from using aspirin for primary instances of CHD due to the risk of internal bleeding,’ Dr Kuiran explains. The exception would be for high risk CHD patients of course.’