Heart Disease


Heart disease is the world’s biggest killer causing one in four deaths in men and one in six in women. Although surgery and drugs can slow down the disease doctors believe that lifestyle (diet and exercise) is the most important contributing factor in whether you will develop it. Other contributing factors, some of which also result from poor diet and lifestyle, include high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, high cholestrol and a famly history of heart disease.

Heart disease is the biggest killer of woman and strikes after the menopause when protective hormone levels have diminished. Read more about woman and heart disease at www.hearttruth.gov. Also read an interview with actress Jane Seymour who is actively campaigning to increase awareness of heart disease among women.

The role of homocysteine

Doctors recently discovered that high blood cholesterol is not the only factor involved in heart disease. Homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood may be a better indicator of disease (and a whole host of other ailments such as stroke and Alzheimer’s). Although most people have heard of cholesterol – the ‘bad’ fat which clogs arteries and raises the risk of suffering a heart attack – few of us will have heard of homocysteine

Homocysteine is a building block of protein is produced by the body as it metabolises proteins from the diet. Doctors now believe that it is responsible for cell damage and inflammation which kick-starts a host of diseases. More than 100 medical conditions have been linked to high levels of homocysteine. Even moderate rises in homocysteine lead to a five-fold increase in the risk of stroke, and almost triple the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Other studies also link high levels of homocysteine to recurring miscarriage, infertility, arthritis, cancers of the breast, colon, thyroid and skin, hardening of the arteries, heart attacks, Raynaud’s disease, spina bifida, diabetes, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s and psoriasis. Early signs of high homocysteine levels include fatigue, unexplained weight gain or weight loss, as well as aches and pains in muscles and joints.

In healthy individuals, it is converted into important chemicals which are used to power the cells of the body and help them function properly. A disruption in this process – which can be caused by vitamin deficiencies, smoking, lack of exercise, old age, menopause, drinking too much tea, coffee and alcohol, inflammatory bowel diseases, ulcers and poor kidney function – can cause homocysteine levels to rise. Eating a diet overly rich in animal proteins – meat, poultry and dairy products -can also cause levels to rise. Animal proteins contain large amounts of amino acids, leading to the production of excessive amounts of homocysteine and raising levels in the blood.

High homocysteine levels may also occur as a result of deficiencies in B vitamins. Scientists have found that B vitamin supplements comprising folic acid, B2 and B6 have helped to lower homocysteine. Eating folate and B-vitamin rich foods such as spinach, wholegrains and liver may also help. Although hospital tests for homocysteine do exist, many GPs are not aware of them.

YorkTest, based at York Nutritional Laboratories in Yorkshire, has devised a home-testing kit. The kit, which costs £59.95, involves a finger-prick test to draw a drop of blood. This is placed onto a pad which separates the red blood cells from blood plasma in five minutes. The plasma sticks to the pad, which is put in a foiled pouch and sent to the laboratory to determine homocysteine levels. Levels as high as 20 micromoles per litre of blood had been recorded in some people, but ‘safe’ levels, are about 9 micromoles per litre.

Millions living with death sentence. See the latest British Heart Foundation statistics