Let’s talk about health risks (we are Life & Health, after all). It might be easy to brush risks in this arena aside, given that everything seems to be a health risk. But really, more than anything else, is your health something you should be risking? Risk-taking health can lead to costly, lifelong issues, most commonly with your heart. That’s why we’re here to help guide you to lessen your risk for coronary heart disease (CHD).
You might be relieved to hear that the risk factors related to coronary heart disease are preventable.
The four major risk factors are:
High blood pressure
It’s been shown that, if you have any of the above risk factors, the possibility of having CHD is extremely high. In fact, around 80-90% of CHD patients have one of the four above health problems. Out of patients who have had a fatal outcome from CHD, 95% of those patients had one of those four major risk factors.
Risk #1: Diabetes
Exactly how much does CHD risk go up when we have diabetes? A study of cardiovascular risk of patients with diabetes showed that diabetes can increase the risk of both CHD and ischemic stroke, a blood vessel blockage in the brain, by two to four times.
Risk #2: Smoking
The most preventable major risk factor for CHD is smoking. Just by not smoking, you can lower the risk of CHD, as well as lessen the risk of other diseases, especially lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer. Never smoking in the first place is a great way to avoid one of the “big four” risk factors of heart disease. If you already smoke, don’t sweat it. It’s never too late to quit and the benefits are literally immediate.
Risk #3: High blood pressure
High blood pressure, or what clinicians call hypertension, is usually a diet-caused disease. High sodium in the diet, lack of exercise, and stress, all combine and result in high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the most common risk factor in the U.S. for death among females and comes in as the second leading risk factor for death in males. In short, the risks associated with high blood pressure are far too high to ignore. Blood pressure is very manageable by maintaining a diet low in sodium, refined sugars, and fats. Also, regular exercise will keep the heart in good shape and lower the risk of high blood pressure.
Risk #4: High cholesterol
When we screen for cholesterol, too often we get numbers above where the levels should be. There are many ways we can address high cholesterol, with diet playing a significant role. When we shop for groceries, we can lower our cholesterol levels by cutting out meats, dairy, and processed foods that contain unhealthy fats. Instead of those high-fat foods, choose heart-healthy foods such as fresh fruit, seeds, and tree nuts. These contain vitamins, essential minerals and the healthy fats that our hearts and various cells need.
The American Journal of Cardiology estimated that if just 5% of diabetes was prevented by lifestyle and diet changes, close to 30,000 incidents of heart failure could be avoided yearly. These smaller steps to lower risk can pay off when it matters. So what’s the consensus? Take less risks with your life and health so you can enjoy taking risks in other ways, like going on adventures, traveling to unknown places, and forming new relationships.
JUSTIN LEAL IS A BIOLOGY GRADUATE OF CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, BAKERSFIELD. CURRENTLY, HE IS PURSUING A MASTER’S IN PUBLIC HEALTH AT LOMA LINDA UNIVERSITY IN HEALTH EDUCATION.
But what does the science say? A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association,highlighted in my video Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil? looked at all the best “randomized clinical trials evaluating the effects of omega-3’s on lifespan, cardiac death, sudden death, heart attack, and stroke.” The studies told the subjects to either eat more oily fish or to take fish oil capsules. What did the study find? Overall, the researchers found no protective benefit for all-cause mortality, heart disease mortality, sudden cardiac death, heart attack, or stroke.
What about for those who already had a heart attack and are trying to prevent another? Still no benefit. Where did we even get this idea that omega 3’s were good for the heart? If we look at some of the older studies, the results seemed promising. For example, there was the famous DART trial back in the 80s involving 2,000 men. Those advised to eat fatty fish had a 29% reduction in mortality. Pretty impressive—no wonder it got a lot of attention. But people seemed to have forgotten the sequel, the DART-2 trial. The same group of researchers, and an even bigger study (3,000 men). In DART-2 “those advised to eat oily fish and particularly those supplied with fish oil capsules had a higher risk of cardiac death.”
Put all the studies together, and there’s no justification for the use of omega 3s as a structured intervention in everyday clinical practice or for guidelines supporting more dietary omega-3’s. So what should doctors say when their patients follow the American Heart Association advice to ask them about fish oil supplements? Given this and other negative meta-analyses, “our job as doctors should be to stop highly marketed fish oil supplementation in all of our patients.”
I’ve previously discussed fish oil supplements in the context of risks versus purported cardiovascular benefits:
- Dietary Supplement Snake Oil
- Fish Oil in Troubled Waters
- DDT in Fish Oil Supplements
- Is Cod Liver Oil Good For You?
- Are krill oil supplements better than fish oil capsules?
But if the benefits aren’t there, then all one is left with are concerns over the industrial pollutants that concentrate in the fish fat (even in distilled fish oil, see Is Distilled Fish Oil Toxin-Free?).
- Fish Intake Associated With Brain Shrinkage
- Mercury vs. Omega-3s for Brain Development
- How Long to Detox From Fish Before Pregnancy?
–Michael Greger, M.D.
PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day ,and From Table to Able.
Image Credit: Jo Christian Oterhals / Flickr