Updated: Dec 22, 2022
-From the desk of Dr. Brkich
If heart disease runs in our family, should we be worried? Are we at greater risk than someone with no family history of heart disease? I believe that we all need to be vigilant against heart disease, regardless of our family history, because heart disease is the number one killer of human beings. Staggering numbers of lives are lost from diseases of the heart, such as heart attacks, strokes, sudden cardiac arrest, and heart failure.
The good news is that a family history of heart disease does not dictate or determine our destiny. Our family history may point to a predisposition for heart disease, but that is where it ends. The heart may be the weakest link in an organ chain, but a weak link in a chain can always be made stronger. The risk of heart disease is highly modifiable, for everyone, despite their family history.
Overwhelming evidence indicates that the risk of a heart attack or stroke is highly influenced by the choices we make, in the foods we eat, and don’t eat, and our lifestyle choices. Even for those on blood pressure medications, cholesterol drugs, arrhythmia agents, or blood thinners, there is considerable hope for improvement when the underlying causes of heart disease are addressed.
Even if one has a strong family history of heart attacks or strokes, according to numerous wholistic heart surgeons and cardiologists, there is little need for fear or despair because much can be done that is within our control to prevent, arrest, and maybe even reverse heart disease. A family history merely indicates a predisposition. In science, a correlation or association does not necessarily mean causality. Just because one’s family members have a high prevalence of heart disease does not mean all family members are destined to the same fate, just on the basis of genes. Families share not only their genes, but their dietary and lifestyle habits and cooking customs, which are also passed on from generation to generation. If Grandma used unhealthy toxic oils and excess refined sugar in her cooking and baking, chances are that daughter and granddaughter will likely carry on the tradition. We can’t change our genetics, but we have full control over our dietary and lifestyle habits that we pass on within our families. These are the ultimate arbiters of our destiny, not our family history. Breaking the cycle of unhealthy foods and lifestyle, passed down from one generation to the next is, what I believe, will break the cycle of not just heart disease, but most diseases. Our destiny lies not in our genes but in our daily dietary habits and lifestyles. Genes may point the gun, but it is how we live, what we eat, and what is eating us, that pulls the trigger. If Grandma wasn’t given the knowledge and tools to make heart healthy choices, the cycle can be broken.
Blood tests that are commonly used to assess heart disease risk are cholesterol, HDL, LDL, cholesterol/HDL ratio, triglycerides, triglycerides/HDL ratio, C-Reactive Protein (CRP), fasting glucose, fasting insulin, hemoglobin A1c, fibrinogen, kidney and liver function markers, and thyroid hormones. Objective tests for heart disease are treadmill stress testing, ECG, angiogram, echocardiogram, troponin, and brain natriuretic peptide (BNP). Atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries can be measured by a specialized CT scan of the heart that measures the amount of calcium in the walls of the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart. Taking vitamin D and calcium, without taking vitamin K2 concurrently, can increase the calcium score. A calcium score of zero is desirable, and means that there is no deposition of calcium in the arteries of the heart, which lessens the likelihood of a heart attack. The higher the calcium score, the more calcium is present in the coronary arteries, and the higher the risk of a heart attack. Calcium requires vitamin K2 before it can be deposited in the bones, where it belongs, not the coronary arteries where it doesn’t belong.
Heart attacks and strokes can occur without any prior warning. That is why it is a good idea to screen for markers of heart disease before noticing any symptoms. In other words, the best time to see a doctor is before you get sick. An angiogram is a great tool that very accurately identifies the degree of blockage of the coronary arteries. Unfortunately, angiograms are usually done in the advanced stages of disease. By the time one qualifies for an angiogram, it can be too late. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Early detection is always desirable, but we need to be proactive earlier than later. We have to stay on top of the early markers and take preventative measures so that we never need an angiogram.
There is much controversy and disagreement as to how we should prevent and treat heart disease. There are many opposing and contradictory views on what is the best way. It is hard to decide who to believe if everyone is saying different and contradictory things. I believe that we have to look at all the opposing views carefully and thoughtfully and decide for ourselves based on the science that is present, or absent, in support of each. I do not believe that there is only one way that is the right way. We need to do whatever works for us individually. We are all different, with different family histories, different nutritional requirements, different responses to stress, and different microbiomes. Treatments may differ, but the outcome should always be the same. As my father-in-law used to say, there are many roads that lead to Rome. It doesn’t matter what road you take, as long as you get there.
If the concept of diet and lifestyle as a starting point for prevention and reversal of heart disease is new to you, there are many resources where you can begin your own research, above and beyond, and in conjunction with, mainstream treatment options such as drugs, surgery, and transplants.
Here are a few introductory links to help you get started in your quest for the full truth about heart disease:
If you have any questions or want to take your health to the next level, or would like a roadmap to Rome, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are only a phone call or a click away.
- Dr. Brkich