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December 2003

How You Can Help End the Heart Disease Epidemic
By Heather Lindsey

The latest science coupled with advanced nutrition is providing us with a road map to help end heart disease. Research now confirms that a scientific program based on blood testing, supplements, exercise and nutrition can help lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Life without this disease could become a reality.

Around the world, scientists have been putting together the pieces of the heart disease puzzle. The studies are impressive and the results extremely promising. For example, some of the latest research has found that C-reactive protein levels in the blood may be a better predictor of heart disease than low- density lipoprotein (LDL). Researchers have also found that supplements such as fish oil can reduce coronary deaths, while coenzyme Q10 has a positive impact on cardiac arrhythmias and exercise tolerance.

Life Extension has consolidated all of the latest research and assembled a step-by-step plan that if followed should drastically reduce your chances of heart disease.

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or the DASH diet, is an eating plan low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat designed to reduce blood pressure. It emphasizes fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods, but also includes whole grains, beans, fish, poultry and nuts. Additionally, the DASH diet reduces intake of red meat, sugar and alcohol.

In a landmark 1997 study,3 researchers studied diet in 459 adults with systolic blood pressures of less than 160 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressures of 80 to 95 mm Hg.

For three weeks, the subjects were fed a control diet low in fruits, vegetables and dairy products, with a fat content typical of an average American diet. Participants were then randomly assigned to receive for eight weeks the control diet, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, or a “combination” diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, with reduced saturated and total fat—in other words, the DASH diet.

Researchers found that DASH reduced systolic blood pressure by 5.5 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 3.0 mm Hg compared to the control (typical American) diet. The fruits and vegetables diet also reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure but not as much as DASH. Among the 133 people with hypertension, the DASH diet reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure even more (by 11.4 and 5.5 mm Hg, respectively). Researchers concluded that the combination or DASH diet can substantially lower blood pressure.

It is commonly known that reducing your salt intake can also help to lower blood pressure. An additional DASH study found that reducing salt consumption to levels below the current recommendation of 100 mmol per day and following the DASH diet will lower blood pressure substantially, with greater effects in combination.4

The DASH-low sodium diet also appeared to lower the levels of total cholesterol (TC) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). People on the DASH-low sodium eating plan reduced their TC levels by 7.3%, and their levels of LDL by 9%.5

Fish Consumption Lowers Risk
In addition to the benefits of the DASH diet and lowering sodium intake, researchers have been interested in the specific heart-healthy impact of fish. Scientists have found that consuming fish can help to substantially lower the risk of heart disease.

In a recent study,6 investigators determined that eating certain types of fish decreases the risk of ischemic heart disease (IHD), a condition in which the blood flow is restricted to the heart muscle, as well as myocardial infarctions or heart attack. Specifically, eating broiled or baked fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and herring at least once or twice a week lowered arrhythmic IHD death by 58% and the risk of a fatal heart attack by about 50%.

Eating fried fish or fish sandwiches was not associated with lower risk of total IHD death, arrhythmic IHD death or nonfatal heart attack, but instead was associated with trends toward higher risk.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that healthy adults eat at least two servings of fish a week, particularly fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon. These fish contain two heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA).

Exercise benefits your health
In addition to diet, another well-known way to reduce the risk of developing heart disease is to exercise. According to the AHA, the relative risk of coronary heart disease associated with physical inactivity ranges from 1.5 to 2.4, an increase in risk comparable with that observed for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and cigarette smoking.

AHA notes that participating in low-to-moderate intensity activities such as walking, climbing stairs, gardening, housework, dancing and home exercise for at least 30 minutes a day can benefit your heart health. More vigorous aerobic activities, such as brisk walking, running, swimming, bicycling, roller skating and jumping rope done most days of the week for at least 30 minutes are best for improving the fitness of the heart and lungs, according to the AHA.

Assessing Your Risk
Before deciding upon any dietary measures or what type of physical activity to pursue, you may want to assess your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Testing for C-reactive protein
In addition to the more familiar ways of screening for heart disease, such as monitoring cholesterol and checking blood pressure, clinical studies have found that screening for the presence of C-reactive protein (CRP) is very important.

Research suggests that inflammation, the way the body responds to injury, plays a role in arteriosclerosis, the process in which fatty deposits build up in the lining of arteries.7 CRP levels increase during systemic inflammation and testing the levels of this protein in the blood can help assess cardiovascular disease risk. In fact, CRP may be a stronger predictor of heart disease than LDL cholesterol level.8 A high sensitivity assay for CRP (hs-CRP) is now widely available.

High levels of CRP can predict new coronary events in patients with stable coronary artery disease. Additionally, large-scale studies have shown that high hs-CRP levels predict risk of future heart attack, stroke, peripheral arterial disease and vascular death in people

without known cardiovascular disease.10-14 High CRP has also been associated with increased vascular events in people with acute ischemic heart disease, stable angina and a history of heart attack.10

According to the AHA, if a person has an intermediate risk of cardiovascular disease, a CRP test can help predict a cardiovascular and stroke event and help direct further evaluation and therapy. The benefits of such therapy based on this strategy, however, remain uncertain. A person at high risk or who has established heart disease or stroke should be treated intensively regardless of hs-CRP levels, states the AHA.