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 pectoris, coronary thrombosis or 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 in 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 about 300 grams, it pumps about 4,300 gallons of blood every day through the body and supplies oxygen and nourishment to all the organs. It beats 1,00,000 times a day, continually pumping the 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.
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 ischaemia of the heart or angina pectoris, which is a latin word meaning pain in the chest. It is actually a cry of the heart for more blood. In this condition, exercise or excitement provokes severe chest pain and so limits the patients 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 death of that portion of the heart which depends upon the choked arteries, it is called a heart attack or coronary thrombosis. It may lead to death or heal, leaving a scar. Patients with healed lesions may be severely disabled or may be able to resume normal life with restrictions in their physical activities. A high proportion of cases of sudden death occur in persons who have had angina pectoris or coronary thrombosis.
The coronary arteries get narrowed due to various chemical deposits on their inner linings. These are caused by inherited or acquired defects in the metabolic processes of the body with regard to intake and absorption of various substances. A diet rich in fatty foods, especially animal fats, causes fatty substances to settle in the coronary arteries, thus blocking and narrowing them. The process of silting up of arteries is known as arterioscelrosis and is a major degenerative change affecting the circulatory system.
A common symptom of heart disease is shortness of breath, which is caused by the blood being deprived of the proper account of oxygen. Another common symptom is chest pain or pain down either arm. Other symptoms are palpitation, fainting, emotional instability, cold hand and feet, frequent perspiration and fatigue. All these symptoms may be caused by many other disorders. Appropriate tests and studies are, therefore, essential to establish the true nature of these symptoms.
The basic causes of heart disease are wrong food habits, faulty style of living and various stresses. The famous Framingham Heart Study of the National Heart and Lung Institutes identified seven major risk factors in coronary heart disease. These are : (I) elevated blood levels of cholesterol, triglycerides and other fatty substances, (ii) elevated blood pressure (iii) elevated blood uric acid levels ( mainly caused by a high protein diet), (iv) certain metabolic disorders, notably diabetes, (v) obesity, (vi) smoking, and (vii) lack of physical exercise. Any one 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 ones life style and re-adjusting the diet. Constant worry and tension stimulates the adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline and cartisons. This also contributes to constricted arteries, high blood pressure and increased work for the heart.
The fundamental factor in all heart diseases is the diet. A corrective diet designed to alter body chemistry and improve the quality of general nutritional intake can, in many cases, reverse the degenerative changes which have occurred in the heart and blood vessels.
The diet should be lacto-vegetarian, low in sodium and calories. It should consist of high quality, natural organic foods, with emphasis on whole grains, seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables. Foods which should be eliminated are all white flour products, sweets, chocolates, canned foods in syrup, soft drinks, squashes, all hard fats of animal origin such as butter, cream and fatty meats. Salt and sugar should be reduced substantially.
Most flesh foods have a high sodium content and some meats are also very fatty. They are also highly acid-forming and create a high level of toxic matter in the system. They should be avoided by patients with a heart disease. The patient should also avoid tea, coffee, alcohol and tobacco. Tea and coffee contain caffeine which has a toxic effect on the heart and nervous system. Caffeine is a strong cardiac stimulant, which if taken regularly can cause palpitation or disturbances of heart rhythm.
Alcohol damages the liver and overstimulates the heart. It also alters the blood sugar level and depletes the body's vitamin B reserve. Nicotine has a toxic, irritant effect on the heart muscles and disturbs the blood sugar level.
The diet of the patient with heart disease should consist of nutrients as near to their whole natural state as possible so as to ensure an adequate intake of essential vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Fruits and vegetables should form a large part of the diet and should be taken in their fresh raw state whenever possible. Grapes and apples are particularly beneficial. The essential fatty acids which reduce serum cholesterol levels and minimise the risk of arterioscelerosis can be obtained from sunflower seed oil, corn oil or safflower oil. Several studies have indicated that garlic can reduce the cholesterol level in persons whose body normally cannot regulate it. Another important cholesterol lowering herb is alfalfa. Lecithin helps prevent fatty deposits in arteries. Best food sources are unrefined, raw, crude vegetable oils, seeds and grains.
Patients with heart disease should increase their intake of foods rich in vitamin E, as this vitamin promotes heart functioning by improving oxygeneration of the cells. It also improves the circulation and muscle strength. Many whole meal 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 breaks 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 reaction to stress can do little harm if the diet is adequate in vitamin C and panthothenic acid. The richest sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits.
The following is the suggested diet for persons suffering from some disorder of the heart :
Upon arising : Lukewarm water with lemon juice and honey.
Breakfast : Fresh fruits such as apples, grapes, pears, peaches, pineapples, oranges, melons, one or two slices of whole meal bread and skimmed milk.
Mid-morning : Fresh fruit juice or coconut water.
Lunch : Combination salad of vegetables such as lettuces, cabbage, endive, carrots, cucumber, beetroot, tomato, onion and garlic, one or two slices of wholemeal bread or chappatis and curd.
Mid-afternoon : Fresh fruit juice.
Dinner : Fresh vegetable juice or soup, two steamed or lightly cooked vegetables, one or two whole wheat chappatis, and a glass of butter-milk. The patient should also pay attention to other laws of nature for health building such as taking moderate exercise, getting proper rest and sleep, adopting the right mental attitude and getting fresh air and drinking pure water.