The number one killer of mankind is heart attack and stroke—not cancer, not viruses. Plaque clog-up in our arteries leading to heart attacks is the most common form of heart disease. Sadly, this leading killer of mankind is largely a choice—a man-made disease—one driven by our behavior and our style of life. In the words of our esteemed colleague, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, plaque build-up in the arteries is a “toothless paper tiger that need not exist.”
February is Heart Month, and with the words on this page, I am going to take you through a brief journey of heart disease. You will understand how best to take care of your heart, prevent the most common form of heart disease, and learn when to seek help from one of the many wonderful providers in our Fauquier County community.
The various forms of heart disease fall into one of three main categories:
- Anomalies that you’re born with, or what we call congenital disease.
- Degenerative, age-related conditions that occur as a function of time, radiation, and gravity chipping away at our tissues, impacting the roots of our DNA called telomeres.
- Man-made heart disease, the most common form, which includes heart attacks/coronary artery disease.
Any of the above categories of heart disease can impact the function of the heart’s muscle, electrical system, and valves. These impacts can lead to a range of symptoms, and if you have any of these, please report them to your primary care provider without delay. Symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath on exertion
- Chest discomfort (particularly with physical activity, relieved quickly on rest)
- Unusual fatigue with activity
- Lightheadedness or fainting spells
Folks often will have one or more of these symptoms for quite some time and attribute them to simply being ‘out of shape’ or ‘just simple old age.’ Of course, a symptom, such as breathlessness, can be due to excess body fat and muscular de-conditioning. Regardless, it is important to see your provider. Your primary care provider will render an assessment and will decide whether you would beneﬁt from referrals to a Cardiologist (heart specialist) and/or Pulmonologist (lung specialist).
So, how do we best care for our hearts? Keep in mind these key points:
- We cannot do anything to prevent anomalies with which we are born (i.e. congenital heart disease) and cannot do much to prevent degenerative age-related conditions. However, if we recognize symptoms from these conditions, as detailed above, we can often begin treating them with medications and/or surgeries.
- The most common form of heart disease, plaque clog-up in the arteries, can also be treated with medications and/or surgery. However, we usually don’t learn someone has heart disease until after they suffer their ﬁrst heart attack.
Heart attack/coronary artery disease is due to the unholy tango of cholesterol and inﬂammation in our blood vessels exacting damage, over our lifetimes, to the walls of those blood vessels.
Where does excess cholesterol and the predominant source of inﬂammation in our blood vessels come from?
- The food that we eat (animal-based foods, processed foods).
- The style of life that we lead (tobacco smoke, pollution, mental stress, physical inactivity, etc.).
When we look around the planet, we see large populations where individuals do not get heart disease and the other associated chronic diseases (diabetes, hypertension, certain common cancers) in anywhere near the frequency as do most Americans and other Western-style populations.
The tie that binds these populations (i.e., the original Okinawans, many Mediterranean Islanders, several rural Eastern African communities, and nearly a third of the Seventh Day Adventists right here in the US) are these key habits:
- Eating a largely whole-foods plant-based diet (with the elimination of most animal protein including chicken, turkey, beef, pork, eggs, dairy):
- Understand that animal foods bring cholesterol as well as inﬂammation into your body through a variety of biochemical mechanisms. When it comes to your heart health, lean or white meat are not truly considered as heart healthy.
- For those who think moderation is key, I have some advice for you. When something is not considered as healthy or is deemed as potentially harmful, we should try our best not to “use” it at all. The World Health Organization (WHO) has already declared that processed meat (i.e., ham, sausage, and pepperoni), is a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning cancer-causing, just as asbestos, plutonium, and combustible tobacco are. Consider that next time you are craving that slice of pepperoni pizza or order pizza for dinner because it is an easier meal option.
- Enjoying a lifestyle free of tobacco, drugs, and toxins.
- Insert plenty of movement into your everyday routine – such as yoga/meditation – and a culture rich with love and connectedness in the community.
There are plenty of randomized-controlled scientiﬁc trial data that supports the reality that transforming your diet to a whole-foods plant-based diet and leading a healthy lifestyle can prevent, arrest, and reverse plaque build-up that is already inside your arteries. The most striking of these studies was presented by Dr. Dean Ornish’s landmark Lifestyle Heart Trial, published in the prestigious medical journal called the Lancet.
Based in part on this work, Dr. Ornish gained approval from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for his ‘Ornish Reversal Program,’ an Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation program which helps individuals target these key reversible risk factors of chronic disease.
This is why we say with conﬁdence that the leading killer of mankind—a heart attack—is largely preventable. It can be prevented by the choices you make and if it is already present, can be arrested and reversed.
If you have any concerning symptoms as outlined in the article, or simply just want to learn more about how to best to care for the engine of your body, please start the conversation with your primary care provider or a Cardiologist.
Neel K. Shah, M.D., FACC, RPVI
Five benefits of stretching
Regular stretching provides numerous health benefits as you age, and when combined with other types of exercise, it can add years to your life. Here are five reasons to stretch regularly.
1. Improve flexibility
As you age, your muscles shorten and lose elasticity. Stretching keeps you flexible and helps you maintain your mobility.
2. Avert injuries
Stretching improves your balance and strength, which can reduce your risk of falling. This will likely help you feel more confident when moving around and performing your daily tasks.
3. Boost blood circulation
Stretching stimulates blood flow and increases the oxygen supply to your muscles.
4. Prevent diseases
Maintaining an active lifestyle and stretching regularly can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers.
5. Reduce soreness
Stretching can help minimize aches and pains. Ask a health professional for advice on which exercises to perform to target specific areas of your body.
To reap these benefits, stretch at least several times a week or as much as every day to reap these benefits.
Four ways to stay healthy through the holidays
The holiday season is all about enjoying good times and great food in the company of loved ones. Unfortunately, your usual fitness routine and eating habits are likely to be interrupted. To stay healthy during this festive time, do these four things.
1. Manage dietary choices.
While you may be tempted to sample every dish in front of you, try avoiding overeating. Remember to chew slowly and keep portion sizes reasonable. In addition, be sure to opt for fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains as much as possible.
2. Avoid food guilt
It’s normal to indulge in desserts, cocktails, and savory snacks during the holidays. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of enjoying the holiday foods and beverages you love.
3. Get up and move
The virtues of exercise for the mind and body can’t be overstated. Among other things, it boosts your mood, reduces your risk of disease, and helps with weight management. During the holidays, find fun ways to stay active, like walking, dancing, skiing, ice skating, etc.
4. Take a moment to relax
Remember to set aside time to recharge your batteries. The holidays can be exhausting, especially if you have to entertain guests. Fortunately, there are many simple ways to unwind, like taking a bath, reading a novel, and listening to music.
In addition, if you’re worried about your health, schedule an appointment with your doctor. For minor ailments and over-the-counter remedies, consult a pharmacist.
10 ways to combat seasonal affective disorder
Many people go through short periods of time where they feel sad or not like their usual selves. Sometimes, these mood changes begin and end when the seasons change. People may start to feel “down” when the days get shorter in the fall and winter (also called “winter blues”) and begin to feel better in the spring, with longer daylight hours.
In some cases, these mood changes are more serious and can affect how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities. If you have noticed significant changes in your mood and behavior whenever the seasons change, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression.
In most cases, SAD symptoms start in the late fall or early winter and go away during the spring and summer; this is known as winter-pattern SAD or winter depression. Some people may experience depressive episodes during the spring and summer months; this is called summer-pattern SAD or summer depression and is less common.
1. Move your body
Countless studies demonstrate that regular physical activity can help combat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and improve your mental health. Moving your body several times a week can also reduce stress and ease symptoms of depression. Join a group class or get a gym membership to improve your flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular capacity.
2. Stay entertained
A great way to counteract SAD symptoms and lift your spirits is to seek out fun diversions. Browse the entertainment offerings in your area and select performances that interest you. Choose dates that fit your schedule and bring along friends or family members. Surrounding yourself with good company and keeping busy are excellent ways to get through a long winter.
3. Redecorate a room
You may be able to reduce the symptoms of SAD by setting a manageable goal. This winter, consider revitalizing the decor in your bedroom or living room. On top of a fresh coat of paint, accessories like picture frames, vases, and mirrors can completely renew the look of your space. This type of project can help motivate you and provide a sense of satisfaction once completed.
4. Give yourself a new look
SAD causes feelings of despair and distress similar to those experienced during a breakup. Sometimes, refreshing your appearance can help you get out of a slump. Schedule an appointment at a salon to change your hairstyle. This may boost your self-esteem and make you smile.
5. Renew your wardrobe
SAD can impact your inclination to go out and do things. Regain your desire to leave the house by purchasing new outfits and fashionable accessories that will make you look and feel your best. You’ll likely find yourself looking for occasions to wear your new clothes.
6. Try light therapy
As the days become shorter and darker, your body produces less melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep. Fortunately, light therapy can be used to treat SAD. Purchase a lamp that mimics sunlight and expose yourself to it every morning for a boost of energy.
7. Escape reality
Though taking a trip is a great way to get away from it all, venturing abroad can be expensive and difficult to fit into your schedule. However, reading and playing board games are fun and inexpensive ways to take your mind off things. Talk to an employee at your local bookshop or game store for recommendations.
8. Enjoy a good meal
To look and feel your best, you need an assortment of nutrients. Therefore, you should make sure you eat well-balanced meals that’ll give you the energy you require to get through the day. If you don’t want to cook, turn to local restaurants and food delivery services for healthy dishes that will satisfy your needs.
9. Clear your mind
Regular meditation or yoga practice can positively affect your body and mind. These activities may help combat stress, reduce feelings of depression and restore your energy. If you’ve never tried yoga or meditation, consider signing up for a class near you to clear your mind and improve your sense of well-being.
10. Make sleep a priority
Getting adequate rest allows your body and mind to recuperate so you can easily take on daily tasks. You can improve your sleep hygiene by adopting an evening routine and limiting your exposure to blue light from screens before bed. In addition, if your mattress or pillow is worn out or uncomfortable, consider investing in a replacement.
Men’s razors: manual vs. electric
Given the vast selection of men’s razors available in stores, choosing one may not be easy. Whether you want to try a new model or your teenager needs to step up his shaving routine, here’s what you should know about manual and electric razors.
Blade models are the best option if you’re looking for a razor that’ll provide a high-precision shave. You must use them on damp skin and apply shaving cream to prevent skin irritation. The manual method allows you to shave hair close to your face, giving you extra-smooth skin. This option also allows you to space out your shaves more, as the hair will grow back slower than it would if you used an electric razor.
In addition, manual shaving is ideal for targeting awkward contours, and it’s a good choice if you want to shape a beard or sideburn.
An electric razor can be used on both dry and wet skin. Much faster to use than a manual razor, it reduces skin irritation and helps you avoid getting nicks and cuts. However, because it doesn’t provide as close a shave as a manual razor, you must make several passes over the same area of skin to achieve a satisfyingly close trim. Some waterproof models can be used in the shower.
Men’s razors are constantly evolving. To find the right one for you, be sure to compare features before selecting a model.
Dysphagia is a health condition that affects many seniors. Here’s what you should know about it.
People with dysphagia have difficulty swallowing. This may lead to:
• Choking when trying to swallow
• Feeling like something is stuck in the throat
• Excessive salivation
The symptoms of dysphagia can range from mild to severe and, in some cases, make swallowing virtually impossible. The inability to eat can also have significant implications, including unhealthy weight loss and malnutrition. Breathing problems may also arise.
Dysphagia can be caused by various health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), dementia, stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), and lung or throat cancer. Difficulty swallowing may also occur temporarily in people who suffer from pharyngitis.
There are products available that can make mealtimes safer for people with dysphagia. In particular, some companies offer foods that are a suitable consistency for easy swallowing. Plus, specialized glasses, spoons, and straws can be purchased to assist with swallowing.
Various exercises and medications may also be prescribed to treat dysphagia.
If you’re having trouble swallowing, consult your doctor to identify the cause of the problem and find a solution.
How to overcome fall fatigue
Do you experience an annual drop in energy when autumn rolls around? If you’re wondering why you tend to feel tired at this time of year and want to fight it, here are a few things you should know.
Different people have varying reactions to the change in seasons. You may experience fall fatigue due to the following:
• Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This condition is classified as a subset of depression. It can lead to mental health issues that may affect your ability to get out of bed.
• Reduction in sunlight. The number of daylight hours diminishes in the fall, which may reduce your intake of vitamin D. This shift can impact your body’s circadian rhythms and trigger increased melatonin production, causing fatigue and disrupting your sleep cycle.
• Daylight saving time. The body must recalibrate to the shifting of the clocks, which requires a period of adaptation for most people.
Regular physical activity can help counter fall fatigue. Here are a couple of other strategies to explore:
• Light therapy. When exposure to the sun isn’t possible, such as when you’re at work, use a lamp designed to treat SAD to reduce daytime sleepiness.
• Sleep hygiene. Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evenings. Find ways to signal to your body that it’s time to go to sleep, such as dimming the brightness on your screens or taking a moment to relax.
If you often wake up feeling exhausted, you may have a more serious health problem. In this case, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor.