February is heart disease month in the US, and if you’re not living in a bubble, you hear–over and over again–that nearly half of all Americans are suffering from some type of heart disease, be it high cholesterol, plaque blockages in their arteries, high blood pressure, or an elevated risk of heart attack or store.
That’s not you? Awesome. But you should still care about heart disease anyway, and here’s why: It happens early, it takes a long time to show up, but what you eat now and how active you are day-to-day, affects your chances of developing some kind of heart disease later. We hear a lot about “gut health,” and the microbiome, but it turns out we really should be obsessing over “vascular health” and the endothelial cells that line all of our blood vessels, from the arteries that move blood in and out of the heart and lungs, down to the capillaries that keep our skin flush and clear, our fingers from freezing on a chairlift, and our muscles oxygenated during a tough spin class.
That’s the message of Dr. John Cooke, who is Chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at Houston Methodist Research Institute, part of the Texas Medical Center, as well as Professor of Cardiovascular Sciences, and Member of the Academic Institute Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Regeneration. Dr. Cooke explains that the endothelial cells should be as much a part of our vernacular as the “microbiome” is for gut health. These endothelial cells form a single cell layer of coating, that lines all the blood vessels of the body and regulates exchanges between the bloodstream and the surrounding tissues. When your blood is healthy the coating acts like Teflon to smoothly carry blood to where it needs to go (the muscles, or skin, say) and when it is unhealthy, because of your diet or another inflammatory event (an injury or disease) the endothelial cells become like velcro, and catch substances that lead to the formation of plaque, blockages, high blood pressure and heart disease.
The connection between gut health and heart health happens in the way your body carries nutrients to your cells — meaning in your vascular system. Eat plant-based foods and the gut bacteria signals the body to keep that Teflon nice and smooth. Eat junk food and high-animal-fat foods and your blood vessels react by constricting, and the endothelial cells become sticky, catching fat and other cells that lead to plaque — and in the years to come you’ll see stroke risk and heart attack risk go up, along with dementia, cancer and other diseases that result from not eating healthy now.
Dr. Cooke tells us that even if we don’t have heart disease, it can be present early on in sneaky ways like fat streaks that show up in the blood vessels of teenagers and young adults who eat a daily diet of junk food, high-fat foods that are derived from animal products, and don’t eat enough vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In other words, what we eat in the first half of our life determines how healthy we are in our second half. That does not mean it’s ever too late to start to eat healthily, but it does mean that the sooner you switch to a mostly plant-based diet and avoid the junk food, the healthier your endothelial cells, and the rest of you, will be.
is evident in 48 percent of Americans, but chances are even more have it
The fact that heart disease kills Americans at a rate like no other disease, and affects 48 percent of us, and kills 650,000 Americans a year (if you include stroke), does not even make a dent in the consciousness of someone under the age of 30. Or even in some cases, under the age of 40. Yet if doctors who treat cardiovascular disease are to be heeded, more of us are walking around with the early stages of heart disease and we just don’t even know it. Even teenagers can have the beginnings of symptoms if you look at what’s happening in their blood vessels, their blood lipids and their overall inflammation, and early marker of heart disease. So while half of Americans sounds high it does not even begin to describe the grim reality that two-thirds of Americans likely have some form of early or later stage heart disease or lack of heart health. It’s just that many of us don’t know it yet.
That’s where Dr. Cooke comes in. If it were up to him, Americans would be as obsessed about their vascular health as we are our gut health. In short: What happens in the blood vessels does not stay in the blood vessels. It actually determines everything related to blood flow and oxygen delivery to the cells, from your athletic stamina and endurance to your ability to get oxygen to the brain, and sustain your focus, to the ability of your skin to stay clear and young-looking. It also determines whether or not your body starts to build up plaque in the blood vessels (one of the harbingers of heart disease) or stays clean and smooth, relaxed, and healthy, with your blood flowing in a healthy, low-blood-pressure state.
Blood Vessels are lined with a single cell coating, which acts like Teflon, called the endothelium, but which, if there is inflammation, infection, injury, or a chronic state of unhealthy food coming into the body, starts to act more like velcro, Dr. Cooke explains. That’s when things don’t flow smoothly and the blood vessels get sticky, essentially, and hold onto the fat flowing through them, creating plaque, and ultimately blockages, that eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke. This doesn’t happen quickly but over time, so what shows up in your 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s started way back when you were in high school and grabbed a bag of chips.
Read More: Why You Need to Care About Heart Disease, Even If You’re Healthy | https://thebeet.com/why-you-should-care-about-heart-health-even-if-you-dont-have-heart-disease/?utm_source=tsmclip&utm_medium=referral