The nature of food eaten by many people in the western world is now considered a factor in the enormously high rate of heart diseases, of which ischemic heart disease is probably the most important.
In this particular disease, the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle are affected, causing their walls to thicken, and preventing normal amounts of blood to reach the heart muscle. With a limited blood supply the heart's pumping action is not as effective as normal, and this affects health in a large number of ways.
People with diseased heart vessels die sooner from heart attacks than others. And if the heart vessels are affected, there is a high risk that similar changes are occurring in the vessels of the brain.
These changes can lead to premature aging, and the risk of brain hemorrhages, causing a stroke or death, or thrombosis formation, causing possible paralysis and reduced mental acuity, and many other symptoms. How does the family diet come into it? If foods high in animal fats and refined carbohydrates (refined flour and sugar) are served at the family table there is a rise in blood levels of serum lipids.
These are fats which circulate in the system. The two best known ones are cholesterol and triglycerides. Cholesterol is produced in small amounts by the body, and is needed by various tissues.
But huge amounts are introduced through fat-rich foods, such as milk, cream, butter, cheese, egg yolk and certain red meats and crustacean foods such as lobster or prawns. These foods can send the cholesterol levels skyrocketing.
Triglycerides are elevated in people who eat foods which contain a lot of flour and sugar. In the Australian way of life these products rank very high and again the levels in the blood can skyrocket.
When the level of the serum lipids is high in the blood, they are often laid down in the coronary blood vessels, causing the walls to thicken and harden and the diameter to narrow, allowing a reduced amount of blood to flow.
It also increases the risk of heart attack. Bits of the vessel wall may break away, and clog up a major heart artery putting a large part of the heart out of action. Death can occur within seconds.
So, people who want to live a lot longer should restrict products which increase the blood fats. This may need a bit of reorganizing, but there is an enormous range of food readily available.
It takes a bit of time and thought to devise menus that are low in cholesterol and triglycerides, but it is well worth the effort.
In recent years, many people have decided to follow a vegetarian style of diet. This is good for their health if they do not become fanatics. A sensible balance is needed. Slot in other safer foods, and reduce - do not totally eliminate - those foods which are on the risk list.
Over the past couple of years, some doctors have been doubting that blood fats are as important as their colleagues claimed. Indeed, the exact picture is unknown, but it is significant that in those countries where special attention has been given to diet there has been a marked fall in coronary deaths.
Australia is one of these countries, and as more people take stock of the food they eat, better health and longer lives are following. Britain and America have shown a similar trend.
Also, exercise, as much as possible for as long as possible, is vital to lasting cardiac health. Regular, sensible exercise within the limits of one's own capabilities is to be recommended. Walking, light exercise such as gardening, swimming and easy jogging are some of the possibilities.
Of course, it's not all one-sided. People can be plain stupid, and elect to indulge in all the so-called "good" things of life but common sense and sticking to a few simple principles can do a lot to make life happier, healthier, and much longer.
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