Ruth Kam Heart & Arrhythmia Clinic
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HEART DISEASE IS THE SECOND COMMONEST CAUSE OF DEATH IN SINGAPORE, AFTER CANCER. THE GOOD NEWS is, less than 10 per cent of all heart diseases is inherited and more than 90 per cent are acquired, which gives us a chance to modify or reduce the chances of getting heart disease.
Ischemic heart disease happens to be the commonest type of acquired heart disease in the modern world. It is closely related to lifestyle, as its risk factors are smoking, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and physical inactivity.
Here are seven tips to improve your heart health:
1. Go for regular health checks, even if you have no symptoms.
Regular checks on your blood pressure, blood tests for sugar, cholesterol and other risk factors help us to detect problems early so that they can be nipped in the bud at an early stage. Early detection also means that simple interventions such as diet and lifestyle measures may be able to correct these problems instead of relying on medications. When complications have already occurred (such as kidney failure in the case of hypertension), then it is unlikely that such measures alone will work. To make matters worse, treatment of such complications will be more expensive and risky (e.g. kidney dialysis or transplant).
2. Stub them out!
Tobacco contains many noxious substances, most notable of which is nicotine. Nicotine causes vessels to constrict and damages the inner lining, triggering a cascade of events culminating in blood clot formation, which cuts off blood supply to the heart, thus resulting in a heart attack. Damage to the lung occurs as well and less oxygen can be delivered to the blood and tissues, resulting in breathlessness and lack of oxygen (ischemia) to all the tissues. Tobacco smoking has been linked to cancer of the nose, mouth, throat and lungs.
3. Stay active
Regular exercise helps with weight control, prevents diabetes and hypertension, improves blood cholesterol and sugar levels, reduces stress, and primes the body to be able to deliver more oxygen to the tissues. Among elderly individuals, those who are physically active recover more quickly from serious illnesses than those who are not. Regular weight bearing exercises improves bone mineral densities and may prevent fractures in the elderly.
4. Eat less processed foods
Foods in their natural state contain more nutrients and protective substances, such as antioxidants and cancer fighting agents than highly processed foods which have the nutrients removed and replaced by high levels of sugars, fats, salt, preservatives and chemicals to make the food look more attractive and taste better. Michael Pollack, in his book, “In Defence of Food”, urges us to eat real food, not products of chemical laboratories.
High salt consumption has been linked to hypertension whereas refined sugars are linked to obesity, diabetes and inflammation, all precursors of heart disease. Certain preservatives and chemicals may lead to increased risk of cancer and allergies.
5. Incorporate healthy fats into your diet
Not all fats are bad for the body. Our bodies need fats for vital functions, to manufacture cell membranes, hormones and provide heat. Certain fats, like saturated animal fats found in meats and dairy products should only be eaten in moderation.
Aim to consume more monounsaturated fats, which are found in plant sources like olives, avocadoes, canola, sunflower seeds and nuts. A diet high in monounsaturated fats helps to lower low density cholesterol (LDL or “bad cholesterol”).
Trans fats are also unsaturated fats but they are bad for health. They are produced during chemical transformation of liquid fats to solids by adding hydrogen to the oils to make it solid (e.g. soybean or cottonseed oil to margarine or shortening). Trans fats increase LDL and decrease HDL (high density cholesterol or “good cholesterol”), thus increasing the risk of coronary heart disease.
Not all saturated fats are bad. Coconut oil is a saturated fat and when produced by cold extraction (extra virgin), has beneficial health effects.
Omega three fatty acids, which can be derived from animal (fish, clams, shrimp) or plants (flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds), are also effective in lowering LDL and TG (triglycerides) and increasing HDL. They also may have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects.
6. Get more shut eye
Make sure you get six to eight hours of sleep each night. Inadequate sleep increases stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, which in turn, increase heart rate, blood pressure and production of ghrelin, a hormone which signals hunger and increases appetite, leading to weight gain.
7. Don’t worry, be happy
Stress reduction strategies, such as meditation, yoga, exercise and laughter improves not only mental health but also physical aspects of health such as blood pressure, blood sugar and blood lipids.
DR RUTH KAM
Cardiologist

MBBS (Singapore)
MRCP (Int Med) (UK)
M Med (Int Med) (Singapore),
FAMS (Cardiology), FRCP (Edin)
Ruth Kam Heart and Arrhythmia Clinic
3 Mount Elizabeth #08-06
Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.
Tel: 6333 6866
www.arrhythmia.com.sg