Understanding the Symptoms and Causes of Heart Disease
The term “coronary heart disease” covers a group of clinical syndromes arising particularly from failure of the coronary arteries to supply sufficient blood to the heart. They include angina pictures, coronary thrombosis or a heart attack, and sudden death without infarction.
There has been a marked increase in the incidence of heart disease in recent years. Heart attacks have become the number one killer in Western countries. They rank third in India, after tuberculosis and infections.
The disease affects people of all ages and both sexes, although it is more common in men than in women, especially among those aged 40–60 years. The heart, the most vital organ in the body, is a muscle about the size of a clenched fist. It starts working even before birth, inside the womb.
Weighing less than 350 grams, it pumps about 4,300 gallons of blood per day through the body and supplies oxygen and nourishment to all the organs. It beats 100,000 times a day, continuously pumping blood through more than 60,000 miles of tiny blood vessels.
The heart, in turn, needs blood for its nourishment, which is supplied by coronary arteries. Coronary arteries are so named because they are arranged rather like a crown, or corona. In cases of strain, etc., the heart needs more blood, and the arteries, under normal conditions, adjust themselves to the increased flow. In the event of narrowing or hardening of the arteries on account of their getting plugged with fatty substances, the flow of blood is restricted.
The heart then does not get sufficient oxygen. This condition is known as ischemia of the heart or angina pectoris. In this condition, exercise or excitement provokes severe chest pain, which limits the patient’s physical activity.
It serves as a warning to slow down, and prompt preventive measures will prevent a heart attack. If the narrowed arteries get blocked due to a clot or thrombus inside them, causing the death of that portion of the heart that depends upon the choked arteries, it is called a heart attack or coronary thrombosis. It may lead to death or healing, leaving a scar. Patients with healed lesions may be severely disabled or may be able to resume normal life with restrictions on their physical activities.
A common symptom of heart disease is shortness of breath, which is caused by the blood being deprived of the proper amount of oxygen. Another common symptom is pain in the chest or down either arm.
Other symptoms are palpitations, fainting, emotional instability, cold hands and feet, frequent perspiration, and fatigue. All these symptoms may be caused by many other disorders. Appropriate tests and studies are, therefore, essential to establishing the true nature of these symptoms.
The basic causes of heart disease are wrong dietary habits, a faulty style of living, and various stresses. The famous Framingham Heart Study of the National Heart and Lung Institute identified seven major risk factors for coronary heart disease.
- elevated blood levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and other fatty substances;
- elevated blood pressure;
- elevated blood uric acid levels (mainly caused by a high protein diet);
- certain metabolic disorders, notably diabetes;
- smoking; and
- a lack of physical exercise.
Each or a combination of these risk factors can contribute to heart disease. Most of them are of dietary origin. These risk factors can be controlled by changing one’s lifestyle and adjusting the diet. Constant worry and tension stimulate the adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline and cortisone. This also contributes to constricted arteries, high blood pressure, and increased work for the heart.
The fundamental conditioning factor in all heart diseases is diet. A corrective diet designed to treat heart disease, alter body chemistry, and improve the quality of general nutritional intake can, in many cases, reverse the degenerative changes that have occurred in the heart and blood vessels. The diet should be Lacto-vegetarian and low in sodium and calories.
It should consist of high-quality, natural organic foods, with an emphasis on whole grains, seeds, fresh fruits, and vegetables. All products made with white flour, sweets, chocolates, canned foods in syrup, soft drinks, squashes, and all hard fats of animal origin such as butter, cream, and fatty meats should be avoided. Salt and sugar should be reduced substantially. The patient should also avoid tea, coffee, alcohol, and tobacco.
The essential fatty acids that reduce serum cholesterol levels and minimize the risk of arteriosclerosis can be obtained from sunflower seed oil, corn oil, or safflower oil. Several studies have indicated that garlic can reduce the cholesterol level in people whose bodies normally cannot regulate the cholesterol fractions.
Other important cholesterol-lowering foods are alfalfa and yogurt. Lecithin helps prevent fatty deposits in arteries. The best food sources are unrefined, raw, and crude vegetable oils, seeds, and grains. Fruits and vegetables in general are highly beneficial in the treatment of heart disease. Seasonal fruits are quite effective heart tonics.
Apples, in particular, have heart-stimulating properties, and patients suffering from heart weakness should consume apples and apple jam liberally. Fresh grapes, pineapples, oranges, custard apples, pomegranates, and coconut water also tone up the heart.
Grapes are effective in treating heart pain and palpitations of the heart, and the disease can be rapidly controlled if the patient adopts an exclusive grape diet for a few days.
Grape juice, especially, will be valuable when one is suffering from a heart attack. Indian gooseberry, or amla, is considered an effective home remedy for heart disease. It tones up the functions of all the organs of the body and builds up health by destroying the heterogeneous elements and renewing lost energy. Another excellent home remedy for heart disease is onions.
They are useful in normalizing the percentage of blood cholesterol by oxidizing excess cholesterol. One teaspoon of raw onion juice first thing in the morning will be highly beneficial in such cases. Honey has marvelous properties to prevent all sorts of heart disease. It tones up the heart and improves circulation. It is also effective in treating cardiac pain and palpitations of the heart.
One tablespoon daily after food is enough to prevent all types of heart problems. Patients with heart disease should increase their intake of foods rich in vitamin E, as this vitamin promotes the functioning of the heart by improving the oxygenation of the cells. It also improves circulation and muscle strength. Many whole grain products and green vegetables, particularly the outer leaves of cabbage, are good sources of vitamin E. The vitamin B group is important for heart and circulatory disorders.
The best sources of vitamin B are whole grains. Vitamin C is also essential as it protects against spontaneous breaches in capillary walls, which can lead to heart attacks. It also guards against high blood cholesterol.
The stress of anger, fear, disappointment, and similar emotions can raise blood fat and cholesterol levels immediately, but this stress reaction can do little harm if the diet is adequate in vitamin C and pantothenic acid. The richest sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits.
The following is the suggested diet for people suffering from hypertension or some disorder of the heart:
- On rising: warm water with lemon juice and honey or fresh fruit juices of apple, grapes, orange, and pineapple.
- Breakfast: Fresh fruit such as apples, grapes, pears, peaches, pineapple, oranges, and melons; one or two slices of whole-meal toast; yogurt; skimmed milk or soy milk.
- Mid-morning: Fresh fruit juice or coconut water
- Lunch: A combination salad of vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, endive, carrots, cucumber, beetroot, tomato, onion, and garlic. One or two slices of whole-meal bread or chapatis, curd, fresh grapes, and other fruits in season
- Mid-afternoon: One or two whole-meal biscuits and fruit juice.
- Dinner: one or two whole heart disease wheat patties; fresh fruit or vegetable juice or soup; two lightly cooked vegetables
The patient should also pay attention to other laws of nature for health building, such as moderate exercise, getting proper rest and sleep, adopting the right mental attitude, getting fresh air, and drinking pure water.
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