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Is The Leading Cause of Death Avoidable?



Image credit: http://nutritionstudies.org/abolishing-heart-disease/


Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), a non-communicable disease of the heart, has been the leading natural cause of death worldwide for over a decade now.

Coronary arteries provide the heart with the blood supply it needs; in CHD cases these arteries become blocked, disrupting the blood supply. The main cause of this is atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits within the walls of arteries. A reduced blood supply leads to oxygen deprivation in heart muscle. This can result in heart failure, angina or even a heart attack – the main way CHD claims so many lives.

We are all aware now what is bad for our health; smoking, an unbalanced diet, lack of excercise and excessive alcohol consumption are probably the things that come to mind first. All can predispose individuals to the risk factors of many potentially fatal diseases like CHD; high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes being the main three. Obesity is commonly linked to these risk factors.

It has been reported that around 30% of the world’s population is either overweight or obese. Soaring obesity rates highlights the differences between early and modern humans. Why are we, as a society, more inclined to become obese than our ancestors? The answer to this question surely lies within the bad habits of today’s society; overeating, smoking, excessive drinking and our sedentary lifestyle. Of course, it would be inaccurate to completely blame the public for the state of health, or lack of health we put ourselves in, instead we should be inquisitive as to why it is so easy to let good health fade.

Apparently, 90% of all CHD cases are preventable. So what have CHD sufferers done wrong and why is it so easy to clog up our arteries unknowingly? Patients are set goals when informed they may be at risk of developing CHD; specifically, to decrease cholesterol levels and/or blood pressure to a more desirable figure. So we must focus on what brings about these risk factors.

Concentrating on diet, it is not inscrutable that perhaps it’s not how much you eat but instead, what you eat. It is certainly possible for individuals to consume an equal amount of calories and differ in health as a result. Fatty foods increase blood cholesterol, excessive consumption of salt increases blood pressure, and the sweet-tooth’s poison, sugar, can lead to our bodies becoming insensitive to insulin – also know as type 2 diabetes. Whereas, a diet higher in fiber and protein will promote a healthier, more lean self. Therefore, the most logical way to attempt to steer clear of CHD is surely to eat a balanced diet – less salt/sugar/fat, more fiber/protein, as well as to increase the amount of exercise you do.

So, if we are able to control our own movement into the danger-zone, the pathway towards the disease, why has CHD become so prevalent?

Well, global advancements and evolution has induced differences between ourselves and our ancestors. Just decades ago obesity and not surprisingly, CHD was near absent within the population. Aside from war, infectious diseases were a significant contribution to maintaining the smaller and more irregular populations of before. To understand why CHD is so widespread now, compared to then, we must recognise what has changed. Advancements in medicine, namely antibiotic production, is largely responsible for the decline in death rates caused by infection; along with a general increase in hygiene and a reduction in poverty. These circumstances are thought to allow us, as modern humans to dodge death more easily than our ancestors.

Diet is undoubtedly an important factor, being associated with all three risk factors mentioned previously. Evidently, our eating habits have changed over the past several decades, and as humans do, we have adapted to survive in the changing environment. Our early ancestors being hunter-gatherers had no choice but to eat clean. Nowadays, we consider ourselves much more privileged, yet, eating clean seems to be a rarity and an outright expense. Clearly, not all advancements have necessarily been desirable ones; the development of the food industry, making way for so called ‘fast-food’ and good food riddled with additives and excessive sugar is certainly  not advantageous to our society. The world’s accomplished ability to provide cheap food, making the basic life requirement of consuming, affordable, is quite frankly becoming detrimental to our overall health as a population.

It is undisputed that over-consumption of sugar significantly contributes to the increase in obesity and therefore, indirectly CHD. So, if sugar really is what it seems, death-defying, why is there such a laid-back attitude towards it? When correlations were identified as causal between smoking and diseases such as lung cancer and notably, increasing the risk of developing CHD, precautions were set out to warn the public of the dangers associated with smoking. It may be beneficial to take action on the ease at which excessive amounts of sugar can be purchased, reducing the demand for sugar, similar to the ongoing process with tobacco. Should we increase taxation, enforce warning signs on packaging and label it as potentially dangerous? Perhaps a step too far. Whether it’s increasing publicity, revealing the dangers of over-consumption or decreasing the availability of sugar-rich food and drink to not only youngsters but the public as a whole, something must be done to protect us against the hazards.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) have had similar realisations, presenting suggestions on how to decrease the prevalence of CHD worldwide via actions of the food industry. Some suggestions include; reducing the fat, sugar and salt content of processed foods, ensuring healthy food choices are available and affordable and restricting marketing of foods high in sugars, salt and fats. So it may be argued that the food industry, becoming more of a business – selling cheaper and less nutritious food, is partly to blame for the accelerating obesity rates and CHD cases. So, we must hope that public health specialists will liaison with the food industry and government to implement the previous suggestions.

Although sugar is a necessary diet component, it’s becoming the bane of our lives. It is probably true that we can get all our sugary needs from the good that grows on trees – fruit! Fruit is sugar-rich, packed with the ‘good kind’ of sugar, naturally occurring. So, as a compulsive tea-drinker with milk and one sugar, I sometimes question why I burden myself with added sugar, and I realise it’s purely out of habit, and hence increased dependence. If we could prise ourselves away from our guilty pleasures, perhaps we could all live healthier lifestyles.