For years, heart disease has been associated most prominently with middle aged men. However, recent studies have put this myth to rest. Dr. Robert Beaglehole, WHO Director of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion, states that the old stereotype of cardiovascular diseases affecting only stressed, overweight, middle-aged men in developed countries no longer applies. In fact the burden has shifted from gender to economics men, women, even children are at risk because 80% of those at risk come from low and middle-income families where healthy dietary and lifestyle habits are difficult to maintain. The emphasis in heart disease risk factors has shifted away from genetic disposition to lifestyle and diets. What this means is that no one is immune from heart disease because of gender and age. What it also means is that everyone has the ability to prevent heart disease by initiating active lifestyle changes.
At the bottom of this shift in attitude is a new understanding of the mechanism behind heart disease. Recent research suggests that atherosclerosis resulting from elevated cholesterol levels in the blood is not the major contributor to heart problems as once thought because half of the people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels. Moreover, improved imaging techniques show that plague formation is not as critical in coronary fatalities as once assumed.
The culprit behind coronary events is now understood to be inflammation. Blood tests that measure C-reactive proteins (CPR) as prediction of heart attack are receiving a great deal of attention these days because elevated levels of this protein indicate active inflammation of the arteries. In fact, studies have shown that healthy middle-aged men with the highest CPR levels were 3 times as likely to suffer a heart attack in the next 6 years than those with the lowest CPR levels.
Think of inflammation as a double-edged sword: it enables the body’s immune system to defend itself against invading pathogens; if not turned off, it becomes the culprit that turns the body’s immune system against itself. The aftereffects of this unnatural chronic inflammation is more and more viewed by researchers to be the underlying cause not only of coronary problems, but of diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes.