Reviewed by Dr Andre Budihardjo, MM and Physician Lim Sock Ling
The Truth About Cardiovascular Disease: Debunking 7 Myths
Published | 6 min read
How much do you know about cardiovascular disease? Get the truth about some common heart health myths.
As the leading cause of death in the United States, cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, accounts for 1 in 4 deaths. Meanwhile, there are a lot of myths circulating that can be misleading, and even deadly. Because of this, it’s important to learn the facts about heart health and cardiovascular disease
What is cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, exactly? Cardiovascular disease includes diseased blood vessels, blood clots, and structural abnormalities. While a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease increases with age, lifestyle factors can make a difference. Understanding the risk factors and steps you can take to improve your cardiovascular health, including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) remedies, can help lower your risk.
Myth #1: Cardiovascular Disease is a Man’s Problem
Believe it or not, heart disease doesn’t only affect men. It’s true that younger women are at a lesser risk of heart disease than men. This is due to the estrogen hormones’ heart-protective effect. Yet, surveys have shown that the prevalence of heart attacks has increased significantly in women aged 35 to 54 years over the past two decades.
After menopause, a reduction in the estrogen hormone increases the risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease symptoms in women. Furthermore, weight gain during menopause can cause a woman to develop type 2 diabetes, a risk factor for cardiovascular complications.
Menopausal women are also at a higher risk of hypertension, which can trigger chest pain and palpitations. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbs, Mongolian Milk vetch (huang qi), Coptis Rhizome (huang lian), cattail pollen (pu huang), plantago seed (ze xie), and Wormwood capillary (yin chen) can help to reduce systolic blood pressure when used together. This would in turn prevent cardiovascular disease.
You can consider consuming herbal teas prepared with chrysanthemum or prunella spike (xia ku cao) to calm liver yang (heat), another common cause of hypertension. It is worth noting that both ingredients may not be suitable for people who have a poor digestive system and can lead to loose stools due to their cooling nature. People on blood-thinning medication should seek professional advice before consuming these remedies, whereas pregnant women should avoid them entirely.
Myth #2: Young Adults are Safe from Cardiovascular Diseases
Contrary to popular belief, atherosclerosis — plaque in the artery walls — starts to develop in childhood and causes heart disease later. Heart disease due to atherosclerosis is increasingly common in young adults. At the same time, young people are also prone to other types of heart disease. Examples include congenital abnormalities of the cardiovascular system, inflammation of the heart muscle, and structural abnormalities of the heart muscle and valves.
The main causes of cardiovascular disease include hypertension, cigarette smoking, overweight or obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, or an unhealthy diet. Hyperlipidemia is another cause of cardiovascular disease. This refers to different genetic disorders that cause a high amount of fats, cholesterol, and triglycerides to circulate in the blood.
Interestingly, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that type 2 diabetes in children has risen in recent years. This is attributed to children eating more foods that are rich in saturated fats. Eating these foods regularly can also lead to obesity, which increases a child’s risk of heart disease.
Myth #3: Cardiac Arrest and a Heart Attack are the Same Disease
This is another popular myth about cardiovascular disease. To set the record straight, it is important to note that cardiac arrest occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and causes it to beat abnormally. This prevents blood from circulating to organs like the brain and lungs, leading to unconsciousness within seconds.
On the other hand, a heart attack is a damage caused to the heart muscle due to inadequate blood flow. Often, this results from a blockage in one of the arteries supplying blood to the heart. When a plaque present in the artery wall ruptures, it forms a clot that blocks the narrow lumen of the artery.
To lower your risk of a cardiac arrest or heart attack, you may consume a nutritious beverage that contains an assortment of grains and nuts. Similarly, this beverage is a dense source of high-quality fiber and protein. It’s also beneficial for promoting bowel movements and preventing osteoporosis.
Myth #4: A “Minor” Heart Attack Isn’t Life-Threatening
The severity of a heart attack can be diagnosed as either a STEMI or NSTEMI. A STEMI refers to a complete or near complete obstruction of one of the main arteries. An NSTEMI refers to a partial blockage of one or more arteries.
Although the treatment for a STEMI and NSTEMI may differ, it is essential to note that both types of heart attack have demonstrated similar long-term outcomes. This includes a higher risk of a second heart attack or a stroke.
Myth #5: If You are a Heavy Smoker, You Cannot Lower Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease by Quitting
It is a given that cigarette smoking is one of the significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Still, the notion that quitting smoking after many years will not lower your risk of heart conditions is false.
In truth, people who quit the habit can see positive effects almost immediately. Within a year, a former smoker’s risk of a heart attack will drop dramatically. People who have previously suffered a heart attack can also cut their risk of having another stroke. After five years, a former smoker’s risk of suffering a stroke will be reduced to that of a person who has never smoked previously.
Myth #6: People with Heart Disease Should Skip Working Out
On the contrary, cardiovascular exercise is still important. Studies have found that people who have a history of heart disease should engage in physical activity regularly. This can help to lower their risk of complications associated with heart disorders. However, some barriers prevent doctors from prescribing a suitable exercise regimen and ensuring patient adherence.
Fortunately, technology may offer a solution that you can use within the comfort of your own home. TCM practitioner, physician Lim Sock Ling explains, “The key to good health is moderation, and this applies to exercise too. Strength training and aerobic exercise will help strengthen the heart muscle so that it can draw more oxygen and reduce the need for the heart to pump harder.”
These include home-based exercise programs accompanied by live monitoring of physical activity and guidance on goal setting. Alternatively, you can boost your heart health by consuming the essence of pure fermented lingzhi.
Myth #7: Cardiovascular Disease is Genetic and Not Preventable
“Although the risk of having a heart attack or stroke rises with genetics, studies have shown that lifestyle changes, physical activity, and statin drugs could possibly reduce their risk by 40%-50%,” physician Lim says. He notes lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, maintaining an ideal weight, consuming a healthy diet, and getting regular physical activity. Studies have shown that individuals with a high genetic risk for heart disease could reduce the risk by up to 46% by taking these actions.
Genetic, genomic, and environmental factors are vital in determining how well people respond to prescribed medications according to their gene type. Pharmacogenetics and pharmacogenomics have demonstrated the ability to optimize therapy by predicting a person’s response to medications.
This is particularly effective for determining if a person is benefiting from the use of a specific medicine. It can also help identify if a person is at risk of toxicity by taking certain medications for cardiovascular disease.
Your risk of cardiovascular disease increases with age, but you can greatly reduce it by making healthier lifestyle choices. Learning the facts about cardiovascular disease and taking preventive measures, including TCM remedies, can help lower your chances of heart disease.
- American College of Cardiology. 2015. Gender in cardiovascular heart diseases [Accessed 27 October 2021]
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease: It Can Happen at Any Age. [Accessed 27 October 2021]
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. SMOKING AND CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE [Accessed 27 October 2021]
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease [online]. [Accessed 27 October 2021]
- Harvard Health Publishing. 2018. Heart attack versus cardiac arrest. [Accessed 1 October 2021]
- NHS. Diagnosis: Heart Attack. [Accessed 27 October 2021]
- US National Library of Medicine. 2018. Awareness of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in U.S. Young Adults Aged 18–39 Years. [Accessed 1 October 2021]
- US National Library of Medicine. 2013. Physical Activity and Exercise for Secondary Prevention among Patients with Cardiovascular Disease. [Accessed 27 October 2021]
- World Health Organization. Cardiovascular Disease and Heredity: Possibilities for Prevention and Management with Genetics. [Accessed 27 October 2021]
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