A Cardiologist Reveals the Ways You’re Wrecking Your Heart (Aside From Smoking) from A Cardiologist Reveals the Ways You’re Wrecking Your Heart (Aside From Smoking)

A Cardiologist Reveals the Ways You’re Wrecking Your Heart (Aside From Smoking)

About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. every year – that’s 1 in every 4 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.“Some people do everything right and never get in trouble,” Dr. Alfred Casale, associate chief medical officer of Geisinger Health System and chair of the Geisinger Heart Institute, says. “Others have a genetic predisposition. But this is a tendency, not a sentence.” They can turn the problem around or exacerbate it by misbehaving, he adds.

You eat heavily processed food

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Junk foods typically contain chemicals, additives and preservatives that are not healthy. It’s not a surprise that the less processed food you eat the better, Dr. Casale says. Fresh foods provide much better nutrients and have fewer calories. Junk food has flavor enhancers that are artificially produced.  In addition, these foods always contain a very high sodium load, which is bad for the heart. The extra water stored in the body raises blood pressure.

You eat a lot of meat

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A steady diet of meat is not as good as one that includes vegetables and moderate consumption of carbohydrates, Dr. Casale says. Eating red meat is wrong only when you do it every day, and focusing on minimally-processed sugar-free and low-salt foods is always a good idea. Bacon and cold cuts, for example, have too much salt and fat and are full of nitrates. They can convert to nitrite, causing the formation of nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic chemicals, according to the CDC

You don’t move much

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Many people think that you need to run marathons to be healthy but this is not the case at all, Dr. Casale says. “Any exercise is good. Even 30 minutes of modest exercise every other day makes a huge difference,” he adds. Too much sitting has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and premature death by several studies. People who sat for prolonged periods of time had a higher risk of dying – even those who exercised regularly.

You don’t cut sugar

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Sugar is a very potent substance for injuring the walls of blood vessels by irritating them, Dr. Casale says. “That’s why people with diabetes and glucose intolerance have higher risk of heart disease.” Consuming lots of sugar lowers your “good” cholesterol and spikes your triglycerides, the fat associated with heart disease and stroke, according to research. In fact, some studies suggest that consuming too much refined sugar, not fat, is the leading cause of heart disease, America's No. 1 killer. In a recent study, kids who cut added sugars from their diets for just nine days showed dramatic improvements in cholesterol and blood sugar levels, irrespective of weight change.

You need to lose weight but are not trying

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Obesity is a strong factor in not only in the lining of the blood vessels but also in how much work the heart has to do,” Dr. Casale says. A lot of stomach fat is linked to newly identified and worsening heart disease risk factors, according to a study. Every additional pound of fat was associated with new onset high blood pressure, high triglycerides and metabolic syndrome. The relationship was even more noticeable when the fat was inside the abdominal cavity.

You are chronically stressed

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Stress is very important when it comes to causes of heart problems, Dr. Casale says. Biochemical changes happen in the body when a person is under a lot of pressure, he adds. “Hormones go sky high causing all sorts of processes such as rising blood pressure, fast heart rate, and sweating.” Heavy activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain involved in stress, is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, according to new research.

You have bad teeth

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Experts are starting to put the connection between gum disease and heart problems together, Dr. Casale says. It may be due to an infections component because germs get into the body through the mouth, he says. “Valves get damaged when germs settle in them.” This is called endocarditis – an infection of the heart’s inner lining, usually involving the heart valves. Also, people with chronic gum disease have thicker blood vessels in their necks.

You have an infection

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Other infections, such as untreated strep throat or other contagions with strep bacteria, can cause heart valve disease, Dr. Casale says. The most common causes of heart infections are bacteria and viruses. Viral cardiomyopathy is a disease that can be caused by something as small as a routine cold virus or other infection, according to Harvard Medical School. The result can be an exaggerated immune system response that inflames and weakens the heart muscle.

You use certain meds

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Chemotherapy drugs are known to cause some heart damage, Dr. Casale says. Certain weight loss drugs can disrupt your heart’s rhythm.  Studies have shown that they may increase the risk for heart attack and stroke. The appetite suppressant phentermine is a common ingredient in these drugs. It is similar to amphetamine and can cause arrhythmia, palpitations, and leaky heart valves after a lengthy use. Anabolic steroids are a risk, too. Long-term effects include enlarged heart, high blood pressure, and changes in blood cholesterol, according to NIDA.

You drink

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“The views on alcohol and heart health are changing as we speak,” Dr. Casale says. There is no doubt that binge drinking affects the heart’s muscle strength, he adds. Alcohol can trigger symptoms of arrhythmia, which increases the risk of stroke by five times. Excess alcohol consumption stops the liver from making the materials that help the blood to clot, A recent study showed that people who drank once a day also had other tendencies such as lower weight, better diet, and good exercise habits, Dr. Casale adds. “There is now evidence that the results of research showing that people who drank moderately had a lower chance of developing heart problems are more related to those characteristics,” Dr. Casale says. “It’s going to take years to sort that out.” 

You get little sleep

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There is no question that little sleep is bad for your blood pressure and overall health, Dr. Casale says. How much shuteye a person should get is very individual but fewer than six hours is never good, he adds. One study found that those who slept fewer than six hours per night were about twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as people who slept six to eight hours per night. Even with short term sleep deprivation, factors like blood pressure, inflammation, autonomic tone and hormones are altered, contributing to the development of cardiovascular disease, most importantly atherosclerosis (the build-up of fats and cholesterol on the artery walls), according to a study.

Your schedule is constantly changing

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Shift work can contribute to developing heart problems when the body can’t adapt to an ever-changing schedule. The body needs time to settle in and adjust. Possible side effects if that doesn’t happen are hormonal imbalance which can lead to a change in the body chemistry that subsequently affect the heart, he adds.

You have a “broken heart syndrome”

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The official name is takotsubo cardiomyopathy and was first described in 1990 in Japan, Dr. Casale says. “This is a very unusual form of cardiomyopathy, which is basically when something is wrong with the heart muscle tissue.” It can be brought on by incredibly strong emotional shocks. There have been reports of the relatives of people who suddenly died in a car accident developing severe heart failure, Dr. Casale adds. “No one understands why or how it can happen but a lot of research is being done.”

You snore

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Sleep apnea is a condition when you stop breathing in your sleep. This is really dangerous for you and very bad for your heart, Dr. Casale says.  Excessive snoring may cause thickening in the walls of the arteries that link the heart to the brain, according to research. The increased condensing in the lining of the two large blood vessels that supply the brain with oxygenated blood is a precursor to atherosclerosis.

You have poor trunk flexibility

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Studies suggest that spinal flexibility is connected to good heart health in terms of the flexibility of the arteries. Using a cross-sectional study design, researchers tested the hypothesis that a less flexible body would have arterial stiffening. Results revealed that elasticity may be a predictor of arterial stiffening, independent of other components of fitness.

You trust in “diet” products

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Sodas or soft drinks are empty calories. They have no nutritional value, are very calorie-dense and contribute to obesity. Diet soda is in some ways even worse than the regular version. They are slowly killing you in several ways. A Swedish study that observed 42,400 men over 12 years said that only two sweetened drinks a day can increase the risk of heart problems by almost a quarter. One research, showed that people who had sugar-free sodas gained three times more weight around the waist than those who didn’t. 

You exercise too much

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Excessive training may cause adverse structural and electrical cardiac remodeling, including fibrosis, which is the thickening and scarring of connective tissue, and stiffening of the large arteries, according to a study. This, theoretically, may lead to atrial and ventricular arrhythmias and increase the risk for cardiovascular problems.

A Cardiologist Reveals the Ways You’re Wrecking Your Heart (Aside From Smoking)