We all know and often hear about the traditional risk factors for heart disease: smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, hypertension, and poor diet. However, there are a number of factors which can increase your risk considerably which are much less talked about.
Conditions in Pregnancy
Conditions such as hypertension in pregnancy and gestational diabetes or impaired glucose control can significantly increase your risk for heart disease and heart attacks later in life, EVEN IF you now have normal blood pressure and blood sugar. Pregnancy is like a stress test for women, and can unmask metabolic issues you may not have otherwise known. Having these conditions impair the endothelium, the delicate lining of the arteries, which regulates blood pressure, inflammation, and clotting. Its damage to this protective lining that sets people up for heart disease later in life…even 25 years later!
The good news…eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting the appropriate tests, and managing other risk factors, mitigates your risk.
There are several types of sleep apnea but obstructive sleep apnea is the most common. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your throat muscles relax and block your airway during sleep. This happens intermittently and is associated with loud snoring that is punctuated by periods of silence. Sometimes people wake gasping at night which settles relatively quickly within a few breaths. And sometimes people with sleep apnea actually think they sleep relatively well.
When breathing stops throughout the night, and this can happen hundreds of times, it places a significant amount of stress on the body which can persist throughout the next day. Sleep apnea contributes to high blood pressure mediated through signals coming from the brain to increase blood flow when oxygen levels drop.
Most people think that those with sleep apnea are overweight, however, this condition can occur in those that are thin and healthy, and it also increases in women after menopause.
What you can do: if your partner complains of loud snoring or you are feeling extremely tired and sleepy during the day, ask your doctor about getting a sleep study.
Depression and heart disease are a two-way street. Those with depression have been found to have higher levels of inflammation and for those suffering from depression, it makes it harder to engage in heart- and mental health-protective behaviours such as exercise, socializing, eating healthy, or quitting smoking. Those that have depression have worse outcomes after a heart attack.
Living with depression is hard. But know that there is help out there. The first step is recognizing you are struggling and asking for help. You are loved and deserve to feel your best.
What’s good for the heart is good for the mind.
Poor Gut Health
Hippocrates said “all disease begins in the gut”.
The gut is home to trillions of bugs that interact with the food we eat. This is called the microbiome. They produce waste products, some good and some not so good, influencing our weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, mental health, and inflammation-all risk factors for heart disease.
Your microbiome is like a finger print – it is unique to you and can influence your susceptibility to disease. We do a lot of things that mess up our gut ecosystem: eating highly processed foods, little fibre and plant foods, and take certain medications like acid blocking medications and anti-inflammatories. And antibiotics are like an atomic bomb to our guts! If we tend to our inner community by feeding it a variety of plant based foods, fibre, fermented foods, and less animal products we can influence our heart health through a healthier gut.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland located at the base of your neck and responds to signals from the brain to release thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones play an important role in your overall health and feeling your best, and have a direct effect on your heart health in a number of ways.
Thyroid hormones effect the contractility of your heart, in other words how strong your heart is contracting to pump blood forward, it effects your heart rate and regularity, it effects the tone of your vascular system, impacting blood pressure and it also impacts your LDL levels by affecting receptors that take up LDL from the circulation. Thyroid hormones also prevent LDL oxidation which is a process that turns LDL into a very damaging molecule that significantly contributes to plaque buildup in the arteries leading to heart disease.
Do you suffer from bleeding gums, deep pockets, or cavities? Have you been diagnosed with periodontal disease or treated for oral infections? Then you are at risk for heart disease.
Poor oral health has been linked with heart disease and significant increased risk for heart attacks due to unchecked inflammation.
The good news is that you can actually get tested to find out if you have too many bad bacteria residing in your mouth and get appropriate treatment.