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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Cardiovascular Disease Overview (Holistic)
Quit smoking and stay clear of cigarette smoke to lower your risk of several types of cardiovascular disease
Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, and avoid fats from meat, dairy, and processed foods high in hydrogenated oils
Couch potatoes have increased cardiovascular disease risk, so make sure you get regular exercise
See your doctor to find out if you have problems with high blood pressure or high blood levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, or glucose
Cardiovascular disease encompasses a wide range of conditions, and includes conditions that affect the heart and the blood vessels.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Many risk factors are associated with cardiovascular disease and most can be managed with lifestyle and medical interventions, but some cannot. The aging process and genetic factors (hereditary or family predisposition) are risk factors that cannot be changed. Until age 50, men are at greater risk of developing heart disease than women, though menopause increases a woman's risk, up to as much as three times the risk prior to menopause.
Many people with cardiovascular disease have elevated or high cholesterol levels.1 Low HDL cholesterol (known as the "good" cholesterol) and high LDL cholesterol (known as the "bad" cholesterol) are more specifically linked to cardiovascular disease than total cholesterol.2 A blood test, administered by most healthcare professionals, is used to determine cholesterol levels.
Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries, often affecting those that supply the heart with blood) is the most common cause of heart attacks. Atherosclerosis and high cholesterol usually occur together,3 though cholesterol levels can change quickly and atherosclerosis generally takes decades to develop.
The link between high triglyceride levels and heart disease is not as well established as the link between high cholesterol and heart disease. According to some studies, having high triglyceride levels is an independent risk factor for heart disease in some people.4
High homocysteine levels are not consistently associated with cardiovascular disease risk,5 but according to some studies, homocysteine levels have been identified as an independent risk factor for heart disease.6 Homocysteine can be measured by a blood test that must be ordered by a healthcare professional.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and the risk increases as blood pressure rises.7 Glucose intolerance and diabetes constitute separate risk factors for heart disease. Smoking increases the risk of heart disease caused by hypertension.
Abdominal fat (central adiposity), or a "beer belly," versus fat that accumulates on the hips, is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.8 Overweight individuals are more likely to have additional risk factors related to heart disease, specifically hypertension, high blood sugar levels, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and diabetes. Per criteria agreed upon by the International Diabetes Federation; NHLBI; AHA; World Heart Federation; International Atherosclerosis Society; and International Association for the Study of Obesity, the presence of three or more of the aforementioned symptoms is a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome. Below is the specific criteria for a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome:
People with cardiovascular disease may not have any symptoms, and for many people, the first symptom of cardiovascular disease is a myocardial infarction ("heart attack"). For others with cardiovascular disease, they may experience difficulty in breathing during exertion or when lying down, fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting, depression, memory problems, confusion, frequent waking during sleep, chest pain, an awareness of the heartbeat, sensations of fluttering or pounding in the chest, swelling around the ankles, or a large abdomen.
Both smoking9 and exposure to secondhand smoke10 increase cardiovascular disease risk.
Moderate exercise protects both lean and obese individuals from cardiovascular disease.11
Our proprietary "Star-Rating" system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by some in the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.
For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.
3 StarsReliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 StarsContradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 StarFor an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
Researchers have found that small amino acid chains found in hydrolyzed hemp protein can act as antioxidants, and suggested that these same amino acid fragments are likely formed during normal digestion of hemp protein. These antioxidants could protect blood vessels and cell membranes from the free radical damage linked to cardiovascular disease progression.
In animal research, hemp seed meal was found to increase antioxidant activity and reduce cholesterol absorption in the digestive tract. Whether hemp protein has antioxidant and cholesterol lowering effects in humans is not yet known.
1. Kinosian B, Glick H, Garland G. Cholesterol and coronary heart disease: predicting risks by levels and ratios. Ann Intern Med 1994;121:641-7.
2. Kwiterovich PO Jr. The antiatherogenic role of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Am J Cardiol 1998;82:Q13-21 [review].
3. High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need to Know. National Institutes of Health: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Available from URL: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/resources/heart/heart-cholesterol-hbc-what-html.
4. Harchaoui KE, Visser ME, Kastelein JJ, Stroes ES, Dallinga-Thie GM. Triglycerides and cardiovascular risk. Curr Cardiol Rev. 2009;5(3):216-22.
5. Ntaios G, Savopoulos C, Grekas D, Hatzitolios A. The controversial role of B-vitamins in cardiovascular risk: An update. Arch Cardiovasc Dis. 2009;102(12):847-54.
6. Seman LJ, McNamara JR, Schaefer EJ. Lipoprotein(a), homocysteine, and remnantlike particles: emerging risk factors. Curr Opin Cardiol 1999;14:186-91.
7. Kannel WB. Office assessment of coronary candidates and risk factor insights from the Framingham study. J Hypertens Suppl 1991;9:S13-9.
8. Megnien JL, Denarie N, Cocaul M, et al. Predictive value of waist-to-hip ratio on cardiovascular risk events. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1999;23:90-7.
9. Freund KM, Belanger AJ, D'Agostino RB, Kannel WB. The health risks of smoking. The Framingham Study: 34 years of follow-up. Ann Epidemiol 1993;3:417-24.
10. Law MR, Morris JK, Wald NJ. Environmental tobacco smoke exposure and ischaemic heart disease: an evaluation of the evidence. BMJ 1997;315:973-80.
11. Lee CD, Blair SN, Jackson AS. Cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in men. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69:373-80.
12. Whelton PK, Appel LJ, Sacco RL, Anderson, CAM, Antman EM, Campbell N, Dunbar SB, et al. Sodium, Blood Pressure, and Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation. 2012;126:2880-89.
Last Review: 06-08-2015
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