Cardiovascular disease (CVD) and the resulting complications are the main cause of death for both males and females in the United States. Diseases of the cardiovascular system include those that compromise the pumping ability of the heart, cause failure of the valves, or result in narrowing or hardening of the arteries. CVD includes hypertension, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
Blood pressure is normally measured at the brachial artery with a sphygmomanometer (pressure cuff) in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and given as systolic over diastolic pressure. Normal blood pressure is less than 120 mm Hg systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic—usually expressed as “120 over 80.” High blood pressure increases the risk for a stroke or a heart attack. It may be caused by poor diet, obesity, smoking, stress, and inactivity. The Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) project recommends a diet that is low in sodium and high in fruits, vegetables, and other real, whole foods. Other approaches include weight loss, smoking cessation, increased physical activity, and stress management.
Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is due to the buildup of fatty deposits called plaque, and mineral deposits. As a result, the supply of blood to the heart muscle (myocardium) is reduced and can lead to ischemia (deficiency of blood) to the heart, causing chest pain or a myocardial infarction (heart attack). The hardening of the arteries causes an increase in resistance to blood flow, and therefore an increase in blood pressure.
Risk factors associated with coronary artery disease (CAD) include hypertension, cigarette smoking, elevated blood lipids (e.g., cholesterol, triglyceride), a poor diet, physical inactivity, obesity, diabetes, and stress. Stroke, or a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), occurs when the brain does not receive sufficient oxygen-rich blood through blood vessels or when a blood vessel bursts. A stroke may result from blockage of the blood vessels due to a blood clot (ischemic) or from ruptures of the blood vessels (hemorrhagic bursts). Uncontrolled hypertension is a major risk factor for strokes. Smoking, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and lack of physical activity are the most serious risk factors for CVD and heart attack.
To prevent CVD and for optimal health, health professionals recommend maintain a healthy weight and limit unhealthy fats and refined carbohydrates. Intake of omega-3 fatty acids has to be increased (excellent sources of omega-3 include fatty fish, fish oils, and flax seed). It is recommended to limit sodium intake and increase potassium intake. Plant-based diet should consist primarily of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
People who are not physically active have twice the risk of heart disease as those who are active. At least thirty minutes of moderate physical activity, five times a week, is recommended. Compliance with a medication regimen is very important, as is the monitoring of blood pressure and blood lipids. Gradual changes in diet, exercise and smoking cessation are the best ways to produce long-term effects.