Coronary Heart Disease: Prevention
Strategies And Guidelines For Preventing CHD

CHD prevention

CHD: Obesity & Bad Diet

• List of Foods to Eat/Avoid
• Lifestyle Advice
• Know the Warning Signs!

Coronary Heart Disease: Prevention


Maintain a Healthy Weight
Eat a Healthy Diet
Exercise Regularly
Test Your Own Heart Rate
Avoid Stress & Stay Happy
Broken Heart Syndrome
Stop Smoking
Get Enough Sleep
Drink Alcohol Moderately
Know The Warning Signs

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Coronary Heart Disease


The heart is an amazing organ; it pumps 2.6 million gallons of blood around 62,000 miles of blood vessels every year. It pumps on average 70 times a minute for up to 80 or (hopefully longer!) years. While it works we tend to take it for granted, yet if more people considered it from their 30s onwards, heart disease would not be the number one killer in the Western world. While for some people a genetic predisposition may stack the odds against them, for most, eating healthy and avoiding many of the high risk factors like smoking and obesity will help ensure decades of good health. Below are a range of tips for helping to prevent coronary heart disease (CHD) and most other forms of heart disease. (For extra information, see also causes of coronary heart disease).

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Obesity in women: Research shows that the higher the BMI, the higher the risk for CHD and other heart diseases. One Danish study showed that for every one point gained on the BMI chart, there was a corresponding 5 to 7 percent increase in the risk of developing acute coronary syndrome. Even among people who did most things rights - exercised regularly, didn't smoke, ate a healthy diet – if they were obese, they still had a 2.5 fold increase in the risk of acute coronary syndrome compared with those of a healthy weight range. Obesity is defined at a BMI of 30 and morbid or extreme obesity is defined as a BMI of 40 or over.

Eat a Healthy Diet

A study produced by the New England Journal of Medicine found that there was very little difference between the various diets on the market, in regard to which was better for the heart. They found very little difference between low carb or low fat diets. Both had similar beneficial effects. The biggest beneficial factor they discovered was with regard to the amount of weight loss. So the key to any diet must be that a person can stick to it long-term. The general prescription for a healthy diet is to eat lots of foods which do not choke the arteries and to avoid empty calorie foods (those which contain lots of fat and salt). A balanced diet includes 7 servings of fresh fruit and vegetables a day for women (9 for men). It includes whole-grain foods (e.g. brown rice, oatmeal), plant oils legumes, nuts, eggs and low fat dairy produce. See books on heart disease for a list of useful resources.

Foods To Avoid

1. Saturated fats found in meat, cheese, butter and cream. Do remember that low fat foods are often high in sugar content, and sugar converts to fat if it is not burned off as energy.
2. Sodas, shop-bought fruit juices, cakes, deserts and pastries.
3. Most mass produced foods like entrees, pies and cookies are dripping in hydrogenated or trans fats.
4. Avoid eating too many fried foods. Frying foods damages the fat (even if you are using olive oil) and turns it into the sort of dangerous fat which clog the arteries.
5. Throw away the regular table salt and replace with a low-salt alternative or potassium rich sea salt.

Foods To Include

1. Oily fish which are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, these include sardines, farmed organic salmon, pilchards, mackerel, herrings, black cod, and red snapper.
2. Pomegranate has been shown to prevent the formation of plaques in the arteries. They may also have some effect on reducing blood pressure. Eat at least one tablespoon a day or else try a juice alternative. Some trials in the States found that those who drank pomegranate juice every day for 12 months had a 25 percent reduction in atherosclerosis.
3. Avocado and avocado oil contain monounsaturated fats and make great salad options and dressings. Never cook with these oils.
4. Eating pecan nuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts and pistachios have been shown to lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
5. Eat more onions and garlic as they help to keep the blood thinned naturally.

Vitamin K Update

Vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin that plays an important role in bone formation and blood clotting. Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) is found in plants and vitamin K2 (menaquinone) is found in eggs, cheese, milk and meat. One recent large study which examined postmenopause women found that those who consumed more vitamin K2 had lower incidences of CHD. The same relation was not found with K1. The survey confirmed previous findings that vitamin K helps to prevent the buildup of calcium on the arteries. However it is not recommended to eat lots of foods containing K2 because they are also rich in fat. Researchers rather recommend that consumers choose low-fat dairy products. They are still not sure if taking a vitamin K2 supplement would be safe or not. For the moment, they recommend getting a dose of both vitamins K1 and K2 from foods. For other alternatives see: Natural treatment for heart disease.

The best dietary sources are:

Vitamin K1
Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, Swiss chard, turnip greens, collard greens, mustard greens, spinach broccoli and soybean oil/canola oil.

Vitamin K2
Milk and cheese (low fat) Meat (particularly liver) Japanese natto (which is fermented soybeans and is often eaten with rice).

Exercise Regularly

If you already have a heart condition, with your doctor's agreement, start walking about 30 minutes a day and increase this gradually to one hour a day. If you do not have access to a gym or places to walk outside, consider buying a Walking DVD (Walk away the Pounds is one popular version). Even though exercise raises the heart rate, the overall effect is to strengthen the heart and to slow the resting heart rate. Studies show that even moderate exercise after a heart attack improves the chances of avoiding a second one (see also heart attack prevention). If you have heart problems, never start an exercise program without your doctor's guidance. They may recommend a cardiac rehabilitation exercise program.

Test Your Own Heart Rate

Learn to test the health of your heart. Knowing your heart rate or pulse can help you learn about your fitness level and to detect any potential heart problems. The heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. You can feel the pulse at the neck, wrist, groin or top of the foot where the artery is closest to the skin's surface. Most commonly a pulse is measured at the wrist and this is known as a radial pulse. To test your pulse:

Place your index and middle fingers on the vein crossing the wrist, 3 or 4 cms below the base of the hand and thumb. You should feel a throbbing pulse.

Count the number of beats for 10 seconds then multiply this by 6. This gives you your heart rate per minute. So for example, if you beat 11 times within 10 seconds, multiply 11 x 6 = 66.

If your heart is strong and able to pump blood easily without blockages in the arteries, it will pump slowly and rhythmically, about 60 to 70 pulses per minute. Many athletes, who are particularly fit, can have a pulse rate in the 40 to 60 range. If your pulse rate is regularly more than 90, you should have this checked by your doctor.

If the heart is weak, it cannot pump as much blood with each heart beat, so it needs to pump faster to ensure the body's cells stay oxygenated. This why our heart rate goes up while exercising (because the cells need more oxygen). As we get older our resting heart rate does to tend to rise, this is a natural part of aging, although there is no reason why someone over 70 cannot still have a heart rate of 70.

Avoid Stress & Stay Happy

People who are angry and more argumentative tend to suffer more heart problems. Literally not getting 'things off your chest' can kill you.

Stress can trigger heart attacks, strokes, stomach ulcers, cancers and even Alzheimer’s. It causes the release of the 'fight or flight' hormone (adrenaline) into the body, preparing it for action in response to the cause of stress. This is very useful in a dangerous situation which requires immediate action. However long-term stress results in a constant stream of adrenaline which can become highly toxic on our system. It’s like putting rocket fuel in a small car everyday, eventually you kill the engine. If you are feeling stress, you are likely to many of the following symptoms:

• Sadness and depression. See effects of depression.
• Difficult concentrating and making decisions.
• Worrying and anxious.
• Feeling hurried and pressurized.
• Allergic reactions, such as skin rashes.
• Drinking too much alcohol.
• Eating too much fatty foods.
• Problems sleeping.
• Feeling overwhelmed and helpless.
• Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems, diarrhea or constipation.

Are you stressed? Take the online stress test to find out. Also, read more extensively about the dangers of stress.


According to professors at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, laughing at a film or sitcom can have as much positive effect on cardiovascular function as going for a run. However the laugh must be a 'deep belly laugh' and needs to last at least 15 seconds for any benefits to occur. Researchers used ultrasound to measure the diameter of participant's arteries while they watched comedy films. The following day participants watched stressful scenes from Saving Private Ryan. Results showed that blood flow improved by 20 percent when watching funny movies and decreased by over 33 percent when watching Saving Private Ryan. It also appears that listening to classical music has the potential to lower blood pressure.

Broken Heart Syndrome

Stress cardiomyopathy is a condition where intense emotional or physical stress such as grief over the death of a loved one causes rapid and severe damage to the heart. It is also known as the 'broken heart syndrome' and most commonly affects middle aged women. Why or how it happens is not clear. Perhaps the heart muscle is overwhelmed by a large amount of adrenaline produced by an emotional trauma. It can result in congestive heart failure or life-threatening types of cardiac arrhythmia; literally a person dies of a broken heart. Fortunately in most cases the heart recovers within a few weeks without permanent long-term damage. However, it certainly highlights one of the benefits of seeking counseling during difficult times in our life.

Stop Smoking

Or ideally never start! The chemicals in cigarettes damage the arteries and oxidize cholesterol in the blood so that it forms plaque in the arteries. And if that isn't enough, they also increase the likelihood of blood clots forming. Women in particular are more prone to the effects of smoking than men. The rate of heart disease in women who smoke increases 6-fold (compared to 3-fold in men). Women who smoke tend to have heart attacks 14 years before women who do not smoke. While male smokers, have heart attacks on average 6 years earlier than non male smokers. The good news is that within 5 years of quitting smoking, the US Nurses Health Study showed that women reduce their risk of heart disease by 47 percent. Within 20 years of quitting their chances of dying from any problem were the same as women who had never smoked.

Get Enough Sleep

Research shows that women are more prone to heart disease if they do not get enough sleep. Researchers at the University of Chicago reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that too little sleep may promote the build up of calcium in the heart's arteries, leading to plaque which can break apart and cause heart attacks and strokes. They found that just one hour less sleep on average a night can increase coronary calcium by 16 percent. Also that one additional hour of sleep was equivalent to lowering systolic blood pressure by 16.5mm Hg. Exactly how lack of sleep can cause these problems is not clear. One suggested theory is that lack of sleep can raise cortisol levels, which causes inflammation in the body. Inflammation can destabilize plaque in the arteries, causing them to rupture and block blood vessels. Another theory is that blood pressure goes down while we are asleep. The less time we sleep, the less 'down time' our blood pressure has, increasing the likelihood of unstable plaques being dislodged.

Drink Alcohol Moderately

Recent studies show that moderate drinkers are less likely to develop heart disease than - not only those who drink too much - but those who drink no alcohol at all. For women, moderate drinking is defined as one glass of wine a day. In particular a glass of red wine has most benefits. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant however, you should not drink at all.

Know the Warning Signs

While some heart attacks appear to strike out of the blue, there is usually some sort of warning sign. Some women report feeling as though they have indigestion, although the pain seems to be centered more in the middle of the chest rather than the left side and pain or discomfort is felt in the shoulder blades. Some report sleeping problems for several weeks prior to an attack, or having a sense of 'impending doom'. Others again report having spasms which travel up and down the spine. Do take notice. Don't think that just because you do not have high cholesterol it can't be a heart attack. A heart attack could also result from long-term stress. Dial 911 - rather a false alarm than a death! See also recommended health screenings for women.

  Related Articles on Coronary Heart Disease Prevention

For more about heart problems in women, see the following:

Coronary Heart Disease Treatment
Coronary Heart Disease in Women

Back to Homepage: Womens Health Advice

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