26. Number One: Heart Disease

The Who:

Heart disease remains a major health concern globally, affecting men and women alike, regardless of age. While historically perceived as a “man’s disease,” it’s now understood as the top cause of death and disability in both sexes.

Key factors influencing heart disease include diet, lifestyle, and genetic predisposition.

Heart Disease and Nutrition

Heart disease manifests primarily through the narrowing of arteries, often due to atherosclerosis — the buildup of fatty plaques.

This can lead to angina (chest pain), myocardial infarction (heart attack), and even sudden death, often without prior symptoms.

Recent statistics indicate that millions are affected by heart attacks and heart failure annually, with lifestyle choices playing a pivotal role in the development of these conditions.

We all run a 50/50 risk of encountering a consequence of coronary artery disease.

Keep in mind, nearly half of coronary deaths are of those who had no previous symptoms.

The What:

The cardiovascular system’s primary function is to deliver oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.

Any compromise in this system, especially in the heart’s functioning, can have life-threatening consequences.

First, your heart will try to tell you by causing pain (angina).  Most likely you will experience a vise-like pain or an intolerable weight forcing itself against your chest radiating down your left arm or up to your neck and jaw.

You’ll stop what you are doing, which is what your heart wants because you will place less demand on it.

Your contractions will become weaker.  Your heartbeat becomes irregular. You are likely to break out in a cold sweat and feel nauseated or even vomit.

There is often shortness of breath (ischemia). If the oxygen supply continues to dwindle, parts of your heart will begin to shut down. If the blockages stop blood flow to a part of your heart, that part dies and you have a heart attack.

If cardiac ischemia doesn’t let up within ten minutes, the oxygen deficiency may become irreversible and some of the deprived cardiac muscles will die. This is called myocardial infarction.

You may be in the 20% of sufferers who will die before reaching help or the 50 to 60% who will die within an hour.

1.5 million Americans suffer a myocardial infarction each year. Each day 1,500 Americans will die of cardiac ischemia.

Coronary arteriosclerosis generally arises from a combination of genetic, metabolic and environmental factors.

You can’t change the fact if you are genetically predisposed to this disease but you can make a great impact through your lifestyle choices – namely what you eat.

Twice as many people die from atherosclerotic (heart) disease as from all cancers combined!

More than two million Americans have some degree of heart failure that restricts their activities and undermines their vitality.

When it becomes severe, it carries a mortality rate of 50% in two years. 35,000 will die of it annually. 515,000 will succumb to an actual heart attack.

Ventricular fibrillation and similar disturbances of the heart’s rhythm kill almost half of those who suffer heart failure.

Ventricular fibrillation is the terminal condition whereby the heart becomes a mass of uncoordinated, irregular squirming.  You will have the feeling that your heart is full of hyperactive worms.

If your heart does not quit due to ventricular fibrillation and arrest, you may die from not being able to breathe well enough to oxygenate your blood, or toxic substances can no longer be cleansed by your kidneys or liver, or bacteria running rampant through your systems, or you cannot sustain your blood pressure high enough to maintain life or the function of your brain.

This last condition is called cardiogenic shock and, along with pulmonary edema, are by far the most common cardiac enemies.

Let’s talk about what you can do to help prevent this…

Heart Health: Evolving Insights

Diet and Nutrition:

  • Holistic Dietary Approaches: Emphasis is now on balanced diets like the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
  • Cholesterol Nuances: Understanding has shifted from simply lowering cholesterol to focusing on the types and sizes of cholesterol particles.
  • Role of Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is a significant risk factor, highlighting the importance of a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods.


  • Current guidelines recommend a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activities, along with muscle-strengthening exercises, for optimal heart health.

Mental Health:

  • The connection between mental health and heart disease is now more recognized, emphasizing the importance of managing stress, anxiety, and depression.

Medical Advances:

  • Advancements in diagnostics, treatments, and medications have revolutionized heart disease management. Personalized medicine now plays a key role in treatment plans.


  • The role of supplements like Coenzyme Q10 and folic acid in heart health is more nuanced, with recommendations based on individual health profiles and needs.

Heart factsYour heart beats 2.5 billion times and pumps 100,000 million gallons of blood in an average lifetime.

Each day this eleven-ounce pump beats 100,000 times, pumping 2,500 to 5,000 gallons of blood through 60,000 miles of blood vessels.

Taking care of your heart and arteries is of the utmost importance.

The key risk factor is diet and diet related problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

Smoking is also a major cause. Smoking will speed up life-shortening effects of fatty build up in your arteries, damaging your blood vessels and accelerating atherosclerosis.

Heart disease comes in many forms; some are more common to men, others to women.

However, heart attacks caused by coronary artery disease are the most common and deadly.

“The 1st case of heart disease as it is known today was reported in 1912. The next, in 1919. Since then it has [become the #1 killer].” Adele Davis

Prevention and Reversal:

Preventing or even reversing heart disease is achievable through lifestyle changes. Regular health check-ups, maintaining a healthy weight, balanced nutrition, regular exercise, and stress management are crucial.

The American Heart Association’s guidelines emphasize a varied and healthy diet, normal blood pressure, and cholesterol control.

The Power of Individual Choice:

As Adele Davis famously said, the path to either continue down a road of poor health or to choose a healthier lifestyle lies with each individual. The current understanding of heart disease empowers us to make informed choices about our health, potentially preventing or reversing the course of this once seemingly inevitable disease. (Let’s Get Well, by Adele Davis)

The Why:

In simplest terms, the cardiovascular system primarily delivers oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout the body. Your heart pumps blood to the lungs where it receives oxygen then comes back to your heart to be pumped to all parts of the body to provide them with oxygen and other nutrients.

This process removes cellular waste as well.  Unlike other muscles, the cardiac muscle is stimulated with a steady stream of electrical impulses instead of nerve signals sporadically produced by conscious effort.

Unlike all your other muscles, it does it on its own, automatically, all the time.

Nutrition for your heart…

Much of heart disease can be helped by including foods that are high in soluble and insoluble fiber, low in saturated fat replaced with mono and polyunsaturated fats, and fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants and vitamins C and E.

Soy is an important heart disease prevention food because of its antioxidants and its ability to lower cholesterol. It also has all of the essential amino acids your body needs.

The American Heart Association’s guidelines set out four basic goals: eat a varied and healthy diet, avoid weight gain, get your blood pressure to a normal level, and keep your cholesterol down.

(This information was updated January 2024)