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Posts Tagged ‘heart disease’

Pass the salt?

Last week I had a conversation with my Grandmother where she was telling me about her current health concerns.  She said she has been experiencing swollen feet, difficulty breathing and has recently made a trip to the cardiologist.  After listening for a few minutes I began asking her questions about her diet and daily activity levels, trying to figure out the culprit behind her poor health.  I felt the need to dive further into these health related ailments and uncovered some very interesting facts that could be causing some of my Grandmother’s illness.  It turns out this particular discussion turned into a topic for this week’s blog: sodium.

Like anything in excess, a diet high in sodium can have detrimental implications on our bodies.  Don’t get me wrong, the human body does require small amounts of sodium to carry out many of our vital functions, but like everything it’s a balancing act that requires some thought and consideration.  Too much or too little salt can cause anything from muscle cramps, dizziness, electrolyte disturbances, stroke, cardiovascular disease, edema (fluid retention) and even stomach cancer.

The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of sodium according to the Food and Drug Administration in Canada is between 1500mg – 2300mg/day.  This sounds like a lot but do you know how much salt you consume every day? Consider the amount of salt present in one can of soup (1000mg) or a single slice of store bought pizza (900mg). Some food items that contain the largest amounts of sodium are processed meats, and packaged foods like chips, crackers and T.V. dinners. Unsurprisingly, fast-food is the worst of the worst!

Hmmm…are you seeing a pattern developing here?  If you have read any of my previous blogs you will be noticing the similarities.  I am constantly stressing how important it is to eat whole foods and prepare as many meals as you can at home.  This allows you to have total control over how much and what type of fat, sugar and salt you add to your food.  A good rule of thumb is that if you cook with salt you likely won’t need to add salt at the table or vice-versa.  Do whatever works for you and your family.

Salt comes in several different forms and has many different uses.  The best form of salt for human consumption is Himalayan sea salt.  Unlike processed white table salt, which is void of many key minerals, Himalayan salt contains over 80 minerals and trace minerals, is unprocessed, unrefined and tastes amazing.  Himalayan salt has a grayish or pink hue and is hand-mined from salt caves around the world.  You can buy this salt at your natural health food store or natural food section of your local grocer.  It can be purchased in “rock” form and requires a salt grinder or pre-crushed and can easily replace your current white table salt.

Prevention is always key and it’s the little changes we make that overtime go a long way.  By switching your household salt shaker to sea salt you are doing your family a favour.

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I decided to write this week’s entry on heart disease because unfortunately it touches home.  My father’s side of the family has a long history of heart related diseases.  Believe it or not, cardiovascular disease or heart disease is the number one cause of death in North America, above and beyond cancer.  Cardiovascular disease, also known as CVD, is a class of disease that relate to the blood, arteries and heart.  Although family history plays a role in the development of CVD, so does age.  Men over 45 and women over 55 are at the highest risk.

There are four common forms of cardiovascular diseases: arteriosclerosis, coronary heart disease, stroke and hypertension.  I will explain in the easiest terms possible the characteristics of each one.

Arteriosclerosis – This form of CVD is not a single disease but a group of diseases.  It’s characterized by narrowing or “hardening” of the arteries.  Atherosclerosis is a special type of arteriosclerosis that results in a blockage of plaque (fatty deposit) on the inside of the blood vessel.  This plaque is typically composed of cholesterol, cellular debris, fibrin (a clotting material in the blood), and calcium.  This particular disease begins in childhood and symptoms appears later in life.  Over time the debris builds up in the arteries restricting blood flow to the heart, and in turn causing what is known as a heart attack.

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) – Coronary artery disease is the result of artherosclerotic plaque that forms a blockage in one or more of the coronary arteries.  The coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen.  If the flow of oxygen to the heart is impaired this will result in chest pain known as angina pectoris.  CHD is generally brought on by physical activity or emotional stress.  If a coronary artery is blocked by 90-95% the result is a heart attack- also known as a myocardial infraction.  Blood clots form around the atherosclerotic plaque and eventually the blood flow cannot pass through that artery.  A heart attack is basically the death of the heart muscle.

Stroke – A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is reduced for a long period of time.  The main cause of a stroke is a blockage (due to atherosclerosis) in the arteries in the head or neck leading to the brain.  A stroke is similar to that of a heart attack in that it results in the death of brain cells. For best chances of recovery, medical treatment must be received within 2 hours of the stroke.

Hypertension – Hypertension is chronic high blood pressure.  High blood pressure (BP) occurs when the force exerted on the heart is higher than normal (referred to as the systolic blood pressure) or when the pressure of blood on the arterial wall is greater than normal (known as the diastolic blood pressure).  High blood pressure is generally a resting systolic BP of more than 140 mm Hg or a diastolic BP of 90 mm Hg also known as 140/90.  A normal healthy BP is 120/80.

The main factors that influence CVD are lack of physical activity, a diet high in sodium, red meat and dairy, obesity, chronic stress, family history, ethnicity (blacks have a greater risk than whites) and sex (men have a greater risk than women).  That’s why it’s so important to stay active, especially as we age, and maintain a diet low in sodium, cholesterol and fat to keep a healthy heart and body weight.

Get your blood pressure checked and take care of your heart!

This blog was written with the help of the text book “Total Fitness and Wellness” (Canadian Edition), 2006.

In next week’s entry I will discuss how to pick a good personal trainer… I will have just completed my 4 day intensive course to get my Personal Trainer Certificate.

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