Updated: Aug 12, 2021
It is fitting that February is known as Heart Health Month. While most think of the heart in February as being the icon for Valentine’s Day, few really think about the health of their own physical heart.
You have heard the statistics. Heart attacks and strokes are still leading killers of Americans, over cancer and other causes, yet many people do not even consider the notion that they may have heart disease. That is, until symptoms strike. I have been practicing medicine for almost 30 years now, and daily someone tells me they do not have any risk of a heart attack because they do not smoke, and they exercise regularly.
I wish this were true. We have all heard of that seemingly healthy individual who is a marathon runner, is normal weight and has normal cholesterol but dies of a heart attack. Was that just bad luck? Did you know at least half of the individuals that suffer heart attacks had a normal cholesterol level? We now know so much more about what causes cardiovascular disease than we knew 20 years ago. The exciting news is that heart attacks can be prevented!
Most people know that smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure and high cholesterol increase the risk for heart disease. However, there are additional, perhaps lesser-known factors that increase the risk as well. These risk factors include:
Sleep apnea and poor sleep
Infectious diseases (hepatitis C, HIV)
Periodontal and endodontal disease
Low Vitamin D
Genetics (certain DNA markers)
Family history of cardiovascular disease
Hispanic or African-American Descent
Exposure to nicotine (second-hand smoke)
Age over 40 for men or over 50 for women
Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, gout
Gut dysbiosis (imbalance or alterations in the normal bacterial flora)
Several women’s health issues such as pre-eclampsia, breast cancer treatment and others
Psychosocial stressors (anxiety, depression, high stress occupations/environments)
Any combination of these factors increases the risk of having a heart attack (or stroke) by causing INFLAMMATION in the artery wall. Inflammation in the artery wall increases the risk of plaque formation and rupture. Ruptured plaque leads to the clot that causes the heart attack (or stroke). Unfortunately, this is a silent process, often devoid of noticeable symptoms, until it may be too late.
There is an excellent book that outlines all this information in more detail entitled, Beat the Heart Attack Gene by Bradley Bale and Amy Doneen. I have been following their evidenced based program with my concierge patients for almost ten years now. I have not had one patient die of a heart attack that followed the recommendations I have made based on the scientific evidence found in this book.
We now know that inflammation is the driver not only of heart disease, but also other chronic diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s. One of the most exciting discoveries in the past several years is that of the endocannabinoid system (within the body) and its relation to neurotransmitters and the immune response, specifically in how it relates to regulation of a range of functions such as sleep, mood, and pain.
Cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive form of the cannabis plant has been shown in animal studies to be anti-inflammatory and help in regulation of anxiety and depression. Many people have been taking these supplements and have found them to be safe and effective. There are ongoing double-blind studies being done in humans that are expected to be completed in the next few years that will further help us with clinical applications and treatments.