Coronary heart disease (CHD), currently the leading cause of death in the United States for adult men, is a condition caused by the buildup of waxy plaque in the arteries that flow to and from the heart. Coronary heart disease also goes by some other common names, including coronary artery disease, heart disease and arteriosclerotic heart disease. CHD occurs when the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart narrow and sometimes harden, which over time can cause ruptures, heart attacks and other fatal conditions.
For the past several decades, clot-busting prescription drugs, tiny balloons implanted to open up arteries and bypass surgeries have all been on the rise. The result is that today coronary heart disease is considered more chronic than necessarily fatal, although these treatments are really resolving symptoms rather than the underlying causes of the disease.
All of these disorders are related to elevated inflammation levels — and as you’ll learn, by reducing inflammation, the root of most diseases, you place your body in a state that is conducive to healing. Here’s the good news: many whole foods that are available in common grocery stores can help reverse coronary heart disease and lower your risk for developing various forms of cardiovascular disorders.
Symptoms of Coronary Heart Disease
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, some symptoms of CHD can be very noticeable, however, it’s also possible to have this disease and experience no symptoms at all or only slight symptoms. Therefore, not everyone who has CHD even knows it — especially people who are in the early stages.
Pain varies a lot from person to person. The most common noticeable sign of CHD is having chest pain or discomfort, which is caused when the heart is not getting enough blood or oxygen.
Other types of symptoms can include:
- Feeling a “heaviness” or like someone is squeezing your heart
- Pains or numbness in your breast bone (sternum), neck, arms, stomach or upper back
- Shortness of breath and fatigue with activity
- General weakness
History and Root Causes of Coronary Heart Disease
Half a century ago, coronary heart disease killed an even greater percentage of those who suffered from it, but fortunately today doctors are adept at using various treatments to control heart disease symptoms. Some of these are effective at lowering blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol, but many simply target symptoms and don’t focus on the bigger picture.
CHD is ultimately a result of inflammation from fatty material and other substances forming a buildup of plaque that accumulates within the walls of your arteries. Because these arteries have the crucial role of bringing blood and oxygen to your heart, reduced blood flow can slow down or stop your heartbeat, causing “cardiac arrest.” For this reason, medical professionals use a combination of lifestyle changes, medicines and medical procedures to slow, stop or reverse the buildup of plaque. This can help lower the risk of blood clots forming and a heart attack taking place because it widens clogged arteries.
Heart disease is sometimes called the “quintessential disease of civilization” because it was rare before 1900, and it still remains much less common in pre-industrialized populations. By midcentury, coronary heart disease was the nation’s biggest killer, and today all forms of cardiovascular diseases — including conditions of the heart and blood vessels like angina, congestive heart failure and stroke — are still the leading causes of death in many Western nations. Combined, all cardiovascular diseases kill more than 1 million Americans a year — men and women pretty much equally.
In the first stage of heart disease, called angina, blood flow to the heart is restricted. When blood flows stops, there’s a myocardial infraction, also known as a heart attack. The combination of these two conditions is what many doctors are referring to when they say “coronary heart disease.”
Arteriosclerosis, which is the hardening of the walls of arteries, is said to be “partly a function of aging.” Over time the smooth, elastic arterial cells become more fibrous and stiff. Calcium, cholesterol particles and fatty acids accumulate on arterial walls and form a swelling called an atheroma. Atheroma are capable of bursting, causing blood clots, and leading to heart attacks or strokes. In populations that eat an unprocessed diet, far less inflammation-caused arteriosclerosis and heart disease is present.
We now know that inflammation and heart disease symptoms are tied to free radical damage (also called oxidative stress) and antioxidant levels in the body.
When antioxidant levels are lower than those of free radicals due to poor nutrition and other lifestyle factors, oxidation wreaks havoc in the body — damaging cells, breaking down tissue, mutating DNA and overloading the immune system. Environmental pollutants, alcohol, smoking, unhealthy fats and a lack of sleep can also generate a high level of free radicals.