For the purposes of this talk, we will define cardiovascular disease (CVD) as narrowed or blocked block vessels caused by atherosclerosis (thickening, stiffening or clogging of the arteries by a build-up of cholesterol and fatty deposits (plaques) on the inner wall). Atherosclerosis can result in coronary artery disease, i.e. chest pain (angina) or a heart attack (myocardial infarct (MI)). When there is not enough blood reaching the heart, it becomes starved of oxygen and nutrients needed to function properly. This can result in angina or worse. A MI occurs when the blood supply is insufficient to meet the energy requirements of the heart or becomes cut off to a portion of the heart muscle resulting in tissue injury. A similar process happens with a stroke, except the blockage, usually a blood clot (thrombus), is affecting a blood vessel that feeds the brain. While both heart attacks and strokes are emergency conditions that can result in disability and death, the brain deteriorates even faster under ischemic (insufficient blood) conditions. A hemorrhagic (leakage or rupture of blood) stroke is much less common, but both must be dealt with swiftly to avoid profound life-altering disabilities and fatality.

When a stroke is suspected, think F.A.S.T.
Face –  is there drooping or numbness on one side?
Arms –  is there weakness? Are they able to raise both?
Speech –  is it slurred or jumbled?
Time –  call 9-1-1 ASAP if any of these symptoms are present

Signs and symptoms of CVD or a more serious impending event:

  • chest pain / discomfort
  • feeling of chest pressure / tightness / fluttering (palpitations)
  • shortness of breath, warmth, nausea, fatigue, fainting
  • neck / jaw / throat / upper abdomen / back pain (usually stabbing in quality)
  • pain / numbness / weakness / coldness in arms or legs (peripheral artery disease, claudication)
  • sense of impending doom, panic

It’s worth noting that many of these overlap with the effects of stress and anxiety on our body. Cardiovascular disease is also known as a “silent disease” because there may be little to no warning. That is, your first episode of angina, a mini-stroke or even a heart attack may be your first sign. “Silent” heart attacks account for 45% of all heart attacks (almost every second one) and often go undiagnosed due to their mild, brief, or even absent symptomatology.

This talk is focused on the fact that many types of heart disease can not only be prevented but also treated with healthy lifestyle choices!

“WEEDING & SEEDING”: Correctable / Modifiable Risk Factors for CVD

  • Unhealthy diet
    • Reduce unhealthy saturated fats, salt, sugar, refined carbs, alcohol, cholesterol; avoid trans fats
    • Consume more cold water, fatty fish and / or take omega-3 supplements
    • Consume 5-10g soluble fibre / day
    • Could the DASH, Portfolio, and / or Mediterranean Diet be right for you?
  • Lack of exercise
    • Aim for 30+ mins most days, at least 2.5 hrs / week
    • Engage in a combo of moderate – vigorous aerobic exercise and don’t forget strength training or resistance exercise!
  • Smoking
    • Benefits of quitting begin in as little as 20 mins
    • Risk of developing heart disease is half that of someone who still smokes after one year
    • Practice the 4D’s for any type of craving: Delay, Drink water, Distract yourself, Deep breathing
  • Chronic stress
    • Get plenty of sleep, most need 6-8 hrs / night
    • Manage emotional health–a TCM 5 elements view may be helpful:
      • Earth – Worry, Overthinking
      • Metal – Sadness, Sorrow
      • Water – Fear
      • Wood – Anger
      • Fire – Joy
        • Too much “fire” can scorch or damage Heart Qi and Lungs leaving you feeling dizzy, weak, dry, and exhausted, whereas too little “fire” can lead to depression
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar or diabetes; poor kidney function
    • Get a baseline and monitor to assess treatment response
    • BUT avoiding a cardiovascular event is more important than any # / lab value
  • Being overweight
    • BMI >25 worsens other risk factors
  • Large waist circumference and waist to hip ratio (WHR)
    • Targets provided in following two charts


“ The SOIL”: Non-modifiable Risk Factors for CVD

  • Family history of premature CVD (1° male relative <55 yo or 1° female relative <65 yo)
  • Increasing age
  • Sex (M > F, until menopause)
  • Cancer care (certain chemo drugs and high-dose chest radiation are cardiotoxic)
  • Chronic kidney disease (end-stage renal disease)

Framingham Risk Score – an estimate of your 10-yr CVD risk accounting for personal history, family history (“modified” score), lab results, and lifestyle choices:

Rising rates of heart attacks and other lifestyle diseases are largely controllable through our everyday decisions. Living a “heart-centred” life is not only choosing love and compassion or living in accordance with your “true” self, it’s also about doing what’s best for your structural heart, the thing that makes everything else possible <3

In health and happiness,
Dr. Vanessa