The outcome of a study published in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Circulation on March 1, 2011 has resulted in the dismal conclusion that only one in 1,933 Americans may be meeting the American Heart Association's criteria for good heart health.
University of Pittsburgh vice chancellor for clinical research Steven E Reis, MD and his associates analyzed data from 1,933 men and women aged 45 to 75 who participated in the community-based Heart Strategies Concentrating on Risk Evaluation (Heart SCORE) study. Surveys, physical examinations and blood test results provided information concerning the presence of the following factors: not smoking, meeting physical activity and healthy diet goals, and having a body mass index lower than 25, untreated cholesterol level of less than 200, blood pressure of lower than 120/80 and fasting glucose below 100.
Only one participant met all seven criteria of ideal heart health and fewer than 10 percent of participants had five or more components. African-Americans had an 82 percent lower chance of having five or more components compared to subjects of European ancestry.
"Of all the people we assessed, only one out of 1,900 could claim ideal heart health," stated Dr Reis, who is affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh's Cardiovascular Institute. "This tells us that the current prevalence of heart health is extremely low, and that we have a great challenge ahead of us to attain the AHA's aim of a 20 percent improvement in cardiovascular health rates by 2020."
"Many of our study participants were overweight or obese, and that likely had a powerful influence on the other behaviors and factors," he observed. "Our next step is to analyze additional data to confirm this and, based on the results, try to develop a multifaceted approach to improve health. That could include identifying predictors of success or failure at adhering to the guidelines."
Blood vessels are composed of three layers. The outer layer is mostly connective tissue and provides structure to the layers beneath. The middle layer is smooth muscle; it contracts and dilates to control blood flow and maintain blood pressure. The inner lining consists of a thin layer of endothelial cells (the endothelium), which provides a smooth, protective surface. Endothelial cells prevent toxic, blood-borne substances from penetrating the smooth muscle of the blood vessel.
Numerous factors that directly contribute to endothelial dysfunction have been identified and aging individuals can easily assess their risk for vascular disease through blood testing. The results of these blood tests can then be used to develop targeted intervention strategies to modify levels of risk factors that do not fall within an optimal range. Atherogenic factors that all aging individuals must be aware of include:
Elevated LDL cholesterol
Low HDL cholesterol
Elevated C-reactive protein
Elevated omega-6:omega-3 ratio
Insufficient vitamin D
Insufficient vitamin K
Low testosterone and excess estrogen (in men)
Nitric oxide deficit
Atherosclerosis is a serious threat to the health of a staggering number of individuals across the globe. Its progression has been linked to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, atrial fibrillation and dementia, among other potentially fatal conditions. Since it may begin as early as childhood and aging has been identified as the greatest risk factor for its development, it is vital to combat this disease as early—and as aggressively—as possible. Unfortunately, if aging individuals leave the health of their arteries in the hands of mainstream medicine, they cannot expect conventional approaches to address all the risk factors that lead to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
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