health for your
Common heart-health myths exposed
By Jennifer Nelson
HEART DISEASE IS the leading cause of
death in the United States, so it’s crucial that
people understand the facts. All too often conventional wisdom is way off the mark, say
many doctors, and that misunderstanding can
have serious impacts on your health.
Myth 1: Heart disease and heart attacks are
an inevitable part of aging.
Truth: Your risk of a heart attack doesn’t have
to increase as you age. Of course, you can’t
change your genes, but you can change the
things you do, such as quitting smoking. The
Interheart study, landmark research that
spanned 30,000 people in 52 countries,
showed heart attacks and strokes are prevent-able when you take measures to improve
your risks with exercise, a balanced diet and
“Most people, as they age, do develop
hardening of the arteries [atherosclerosis], but
not all of us go on to develop heart disease,”
says Dr. John M. Kennedy, director of preventive cardiology and wellness at Marina del Rey
Hospital in Marina del Rey, California, and
co-author of The 15 Minute Heart Cure: The
Natural Way to Release Stress and Heal Your
Heart in Just Minutes a Day (Wiley, 2010).
Myth 2: Only Type A personalities have
Truth: Data from the 1950s showed that hot-tempered, high-strung workaholics had a twofold risk of cardiac disease. Today, research
finds Type A’s may be more likely to exercise to
offset stress than Type B’s, the procrastinator
personality. What’s more, Type D’s—distressed,
The Costco Connection
Costco members can manage heart health
with prescription medications, over-the-counter supplements, exercise equipment,
blood pressure cuffs and defibrillators at
Costco and Costco.com. More information
on Healthy Heart Month on page 55.
depressed, glass-half-empty types—may be at
greatest risk since a worrywart personality
increases inflammation in the body. “When
you’re anxious all the time, your flight-or-fight
response is always turned on,” says Kennedy, a
Costco member. Your blood becomes thick
and sticky and your body is in a constant state
of inflammation, which increases your odds of
Myth 3: High cholesterol is the main cause
of heart disease and heart attacks.
Truth: The higher the cholesterol, the more
likely you are to have a cardiac event. But it’s
the type of cholesterol that’s the trouble. Total
cholesterol is made up of low-density lipoprotein (LDL: the lousy kind), high-density lipoprotein (HDL: the happy kind), triglycerides
and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL),
which carries triglycerides through the blood.
Specifically, it’s the small-particle LDL cholesterol that puts you at risk for heart disease and
heart attack, but detecting it requires a more
specific test and most people don’t even have
it measured. Over time, the lining of the
blood vessels develop plaque buildup predominantly from small-particle LDL cholesterol. If you have a family history of heart
disease (your dad had a heart event before 55
or mom before 65), ask your doctor about
running more specific cholesterol screenings,
such as the small-particle LDL cholesterol
test, that can further evaluate your risk.
Myth 4: Loners don’t have to worry about
a broken heart.
Truth: Today cardiologists agree that emotions
and mental state profoundly affect heart health.
“Studies show there is an increased risk of heart
disease in people who are socially isolated and
depressed,” says Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiolo-
gist, medical director of the New York
University Women’s Heart Program and author
of Dr. Nieca Goldberg’s Complete Guide to
Women’s Health (Ballantine Books, 2008).
Depression and social isolation may increase
the activity of platelets, which are cells that
make blood clots. This increased activity raises
stress hormones, blood pressure and glucose,
and ups your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Additionally, environmental factors probably
play a role since people who are lonely and blue
may not exercise, eat healthfully or take care of
themselves. While there’s no evidence that
expanding your social network and preventing
the doldrums improves your cardiovascular
risk, it stands to reason, Goldberg explains, that
folks who are deeply connected to others may
lead happier, more fulfilling lives and therefore
develop less heart disease.
Myth: Men and woman exhibit the
exact same symptoms when having
a heart attack.
Truth: “The most common symptom in
both men and women is chest discomfort; however, women generally have
symptoms that are not typical,” says
Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist.
Shortness of breath
with low exertion
like an elephant
sitting on it
or back pain
Lower chest pressure
that could be mistaken