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By now, you probably know to “hold the salt” to protect your heart. In fact, the American Heart Association just released new stricter salt recommendations lowering the daily-recommended amount from 2500 mg to 1500 mg. However, researchers are also suggesting that you “hold the sugar”. Although heart disease claims more lives in America each year than cancer or stroke, many people may not be aware how reducing salt and sugar consumption can benefit their heart health.
Americans typically consume more than 2 times the recommendation of 1,500 mg of salt per day, with about 77% of daily salt intake coming from packaged, processed, fast, and restaurant food. Excess salt can elevate blood pressure and increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and kidney disease. Even decreasing salt intake by only 400 mg per day can be beneficial to your heart health.
Consuming a high amount of added sugars in processed, packaged, or prepared foods, and soda pop or sugary drinks has recently been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta. It appears that higher consumption of added sugars can increase the risk of heart disease. Excess sugar specifically appears to cause low levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL-C) and high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat that is in the blood. Although larger long-term research trials are needed on the relationship between added sugar and heart disease, the Emory researchers support dietary guidelines that would recommend limits on consumption of added sugars.
Here are some tips for reducing your salt and sugar intake:
- Read food and beverage labels and keep track of your daily consumption of sugar and salt
- Find recipe-makeovers for your favorite meals that contain less salt and less added sugar
- Consult a nutritionist for help planning menus and meals
- Learn what foods are best to select when dining out
- Ask your doctor’s office for educational material and resources in your area
- The American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association have helpful guides on their websites
Most physicians and many patients are keenly aware of the dangers of heart disease. It is in fact the number one cause of death in the world. Unfortunately the majority of health care providers are entirely unaware of the effects of mental health on the development of heart disease and various outcomes from heart disease-related complications. It has only been within the past decade that researchers have begun to understand the devastating cardiovascular complications of emotional diseases, especially depression, and even more recently that clinicians have begun to treat these mental disorders in order to improve patient’s heart health.
The numbers documenting the increased risks associated with depression and heart disease are staggering. Twenty percent of people will have an episode of major depression during their lifetime. Almost half of patients with significant cardiovascular disease will have clinical depression in their lifetime. That is an increased risk of over 100%!
This information is even more startling when you consider that the risk of a patient dying from heart disease is significantly increased in patients suffering from depression. Some data has shown that males with depression have evidence of more blockages in their coronary arteries when they suffer from depression than those who do not. Some international studies have suggested that depression should be considered an independent risk factor for a heart attack – similar to diabetes, high cholesterol, and smoking, – this however has not yet been accepted into common practice.
The link between heart disease and depression is the subject of intense research in both the laboratory and in schools of public health and psychiatry. Certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, are involved in maintaining emotional balance but also have important effects on both the cardiovascular and immune systems. These effects mainly involve the development of plaques in the heart’s arteries which may lead to blockages and then heart attacks. Other scientists theorize that patients with untreated depression are more apt to make bad lifestyle choices, such as smoking and an unhealthy diet, which puts the body at greater risk for heart disease.
These theories may be reflected in newer research which shows that patients who have undergone bypass surgery have a significant increased risk for their new grafts to develop blockages if they suffer from depression. Since presumably the patient’s have only had their grafts for only a few years this may suggest the potentially rapid association depression may have with the development of heart disease.
Despite a wealth of information regarding the association between heart disease and depression many health care providers do a poor job of recognizing the clinical signs and symptoms of depression and then fail to treat the condition appropriately. The most common drug prescribed to patients with clinical depression, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), is tolerated well in patients with underlying heart disease. Therefore there usually is not a medical reason why a patient with both conditions could not be appropriately and successfully treated for their heart disease.
It is therefore of utmost importance to discuss any previous history of mental health problems, especially depression, with your doctor. You may find that by addressing two health problems that are seemingly unrelated you will increase you chances for a long heart-healthy life!