Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and heart disease drugs are among the top-selling prescription drugs. Heart disease drugs are also among the most dangerous prescription drugs you can take and are undoubtedly responsible for many thousands of deaths each year.
In spite of the dangers of heart drugs, American doctors continue to prescribe them routinely, without ever seriously addressing the issues of lifestyle and heart disease. Pick almost anyone in North America over the age of 50 off the street, and chances are he or she can tell you the major causes of heart disease: obesity, a high-fat diet, not enough exercise, stress, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Right? Well, partially.
There are many ways to measure risks for heart disease. Blood pressure numbers and cholesterol numbers are two ways to measure that risk, but they aren’t necessarily the most accurate or most important indicators of heart disease. These indicators are used in Western medicine because there are specific drugs the doctor can prescribe to make the numbers go down. When the numbers go down, does this mean the heart disease is gone? Not at all. If you have existing heart disease or diabetes, or you smoke, drugs that push blood pressure and cholesterol numbers down can reduce your risk of having a heart attack. But they do little to address the underlying causes of your ill health and in fact will bring their very own harmful side effects into the mix and increase your risk of having other health problems.
We now know that other factors such as your homocysteine, C-reactive protein, and anti-oxidant levels are just as important as cholesterol and blood pressure, if not more so. However, the treatments for bringing down those numbers are available without a prescription and are very inexpensive.
The American Heart Association estimates that the cost of cardiovascular disease in 2006 was $403.1 billion, up from $298 billion in 2001. This includes the cost of physicians and nursing services, hospital and nursing home services, medications, and loss of productivity. The personal cost of heart disease is the biggest loss of all. Yet heart disease is one of the easiest diseases of all to prevent. Even if your parents and grandparents had heart disease, you can still prevent it in yourself.
If heart disease kills more people every year than anything else, why aren’t these simple cures being shouted from the rooftops? Why isn’t it the biggest topic of discussion on all the talk shows? First of all, it’s too simple, too inexpensive, and not nearly dramatic enough for a talk show. Heart disease treatment in the United States, consisting mainly of surgery and drugs, is a multibillion-dollar industry. Why would those with a vested financial interest in heart disease treatment give it up for simple, natural, inexpensive remedies? That means that preventing and treating your heart disease is in your hands. It’s your responsibility.
Simple cures seem to be the hardest thing to follow for many people, because they involve a change in lifestyle and daily habits. The only way to cure heart disease is to work on its causes. If you take the initiative to make positive changes in your diet, get some exercise, lose some weight, and take some supplements, you will begin to see improvement in your health very rapidly.
The single biggest factor contributing to heart disease in America is our poor diet. We eat too much unhealthy fat, too many processed foods, too many refined carbohydrates, and not enough fresh vegetables. In the 1950s, the Japanese diet was 16 percent fat, and they had almost no incidence of heart disease. Today their diet is 26 percent fat and includes many more Western foods and fast food, and heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Japan. Estimates are that Americans will spend in the neighborhood of $150 billion on fast food in 2008, up from $110 billion in 2001. The most popular vegetables are potatoes (in the form of French fries) and tomatoes (in the form of ketchup). Portion sizes continue to increase despite the widespread understanding that larger portions mean larger girths and higher risk of heart attack down the line. Although fast food chains have made some effort to offer some healthy meals, even these are overloaded with calories in the form of fat, refined carbohydrates, and sugar.
There is no question that people who eat less meat and more fish, fruits, and vegetables and drink more wine have significantly lower rates of death from heart disease. Those countries with the highest intake of antioxidants and bioflavonoids have the lowest death rates from heart disease. Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between diets high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (vegetable oils prone to oxidation and rancidity) and a high rate of death from heart disease and correspondingly less death from heart disease in those cultures that eat more monounsaturated fats such as olive oil. In fact, a study of 30 men with high cholesterol found that eating olive oil significantly reduced the tendency of their LDL cholesterol to oxidize. This is significant because oxidized LDL cholesterol creates inflammation, which causes plaque to accumulate in the arteries.
Most people who have been diagnosed with heart disease get on a medical treadmill that doesn’t stop until the day they die. There are drugs for blood pressure and cholesterol control, all of which have their own uncomfortable side effects; there are the surgeries, including angioplasties and bypass operations; and there is the fear of the next heart attack, the next hospital stay, and, of course, of dying due to this disease.
In subsequent posts we will primarily cover drugs related to high blood pressure and high cholesterol because they are by far the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States. There are drugs prescribed for other specific symptoms of heart disease such as angina (chest pain caused when not enough blood gets to the heart muscles) and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), and they tend to be poorly studied, uniquely dangerous, and apt to cause deadly side effects. If your doctor prescribes a heart drug that’s not listed here, be sure to carefully read the complete information sheet on it. If it’s a new drug, be aware that many of the drug’s side effects and interactions with other drugs are likely unknown and that you are, in effect, a guinea pig.
Prescription Alternatives: Hundreds of Free, Natural, Prescription-Free Remedies to Restore & Maintain Your Health, by Earl L. Mindell, R.Ph, Ph. D, & Virginia Hopkins, M.A. Published by McGraw-Hill.