Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Introduction-Risk factors

The cause of heart disease is explained in terms of risk factors. Each risk factor contributes to heart disease to a limited extent or a certain percentage levels. The true risk factor seems to be related to diet. It gets masked up with other secondary risk factors. It is time to include the emerging risk factors of heart disease along with traditional risk factors for the cause of cardiovascular disease.

 Cardiovascular disease

 Cardiovascular disease can take many forms:

high blood pressure,

coronary artery disease,

valvular heart disease,

stroke and

rheumatic fever/rheumatic heart disease.

According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease causes 12 million deaths in the world each year. Cardiovascular disease is responsible for half of all deaths in the United States and other developed countries, and it is a main cause of death in many developing countries as well. Overall, it is the leading cause of death in adults.

In the United States, more than 60 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease. About 2600 people die every day of cardiovascular disease. Cancer, the second largest killer, accounts for only half as many deaths.

Coronary artery disease, the most common form of cardiovascular disease, is the leading cause of death in America today.

But thanks to many studies involving thousands of patients, researchers have found certain factors that play an important role in a person’s chances of developing heart disease. These are called risk factors.

Risk factors of heart disease

Risk factors are divided into four  categories:

A)   Uncontrollable risk factors

B )  Controllable risk factors

C )  Major Risk factors (traditional)

D) Emerging Risk Factors

The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop heart disease. Some risk factors can be changed, treated, or modified, and some cannot. But by controlling as many risk factors as possible, through lifestyle changes and/or medicines, you can reduce your risk of heart disease.

A) Uncontrollable Risk Factors
These variables are out of your control. Although you can’t do anything to change them, it’s important to know whether you fall into any of these higher-risk categories. How many of these risk factors do you exhibit?

1) Heredity

Heredity is a factor that cannot be changed. If you have a family history of having a heart disease, especially close or immediate relatives, your risk of developing heart disease increases than someone who does not have that family history. Risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity may be passed from one generation to another.

2) Age

 Men over 45 and women over 55 are more likely to develop heart disease than their younger counterparts.

The American Heart Association (AHA) states that more than 83 percent of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older. Why? Plaque begins to slowly deposit in the arteries starting in childhood, so simply getting older increases your risk of developing heart disease and having a heart attack.

The older you get, the more likely you are to have damaged arteries and/or a weakened heart muscle. Most people have plaque buildup in the arteries by the time they reach their 70s, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, but only about one-quarter of these people will exhibit signs or symptoms of cardiovascular disease.

3) Gender

Men have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease than women because of the higher stress levels and habits like smoking and drinking alcohol. Men suffer from heart disease at an earlier age then women. While a woman’s risk of dying from heart disease increases after menopause, it’s still lower than man’s.

4) Ethnicity

 Somewhat related to family history, your race can also predetermine part of your risk of heart disease.

African Americans, American Indians, Mexican Americans, and native Hawaiians are more likely to have heart disease than Caucasians, but this is partly due to other risk factors that these populations tend to experience, such as diabetes and high blood pressure

5) Body Type

 Eating foods rich in carbohydrates and fats leads to obesity. Obesity is thought to lead to increased total cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Obesity increases your chances of developing other risk factors for heart disease, especially high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and diabetes.

Many doctors now measure obesity in terms of body mass index (BMI), which is a formula of kilograms divided by height in meters squared (BMI =W [kg]/H [m2]). According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), being overweight is defined as having a BMI over 25. Those with a number over 30 are considered obese.

B) Controllable Risk Factors

Factors that you can control are related to your lifestyle—the choices you make each day about what to eat and whether or not to exercise. These are areas of your life where you can take control to reduce your risk of heart disease and enhance your overall health.

1) Smoking

 Lung cancer is what most people think of, when they think of smoking, but did you know that smoking is the leading cause of heart disease and heart attack?  It is preventable also.

People who smoke are 2-4 times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than non-smokers, according to the American Heart Association.

Smoking damages the walls of your arteries, constricts blood vessels, and lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

Smoking also depletes the body of vital antioxidants like vitamin C.

Quitting smoking can stop (and potentially reverse) a lot of the existing damage to your body.

The American Lung Association says that after one year of quitting, an ex-smoker’s heart disease risk is half that of a smoker’s, and after 15 years without lighting up, it’s as low as a nonsmoker’s. Don’t smoke? Good! But stay away from tobacco smoke anyway. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of heart disease even for nonsmokers.

2) High Cholesterol Diet

 A diet that’s high in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, added sugars, cholesterol can raise your cholesterol and blood pressure levels and increase your risk of heart disease. Some research shows that diets too high in animal-based foods (meat and high-fat dairy products) and too low in plant-based foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts can lead to heart disease, too. Learn more about the foods that help fight heart disease.

Several studies prove that cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease.

3) Physical Activity

Exercise increases the circulation of blood in the body and helps in fast removal of carbon dioxide from the body and greater intake of oxygen, because of which we feel fresh after exercise.

If you’re inactive, you’re almost twice as likely to develop heart disease as people who get moving on a regular basis, reports the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Regular exercise naturally decreases the LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in your blood while increasing your HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It also lowers blood pressure and helps with blood sugar control, not to mention that exercise strengthens the heart and cardiovascular system so that it is more efficient. Exercise does not have to be strenuous to offer benefits. Get a heart-smart workout plan here.

4) Obesity and overweight

 The more excess body fat you have, the greater your risk of heart disease and heart attack—even if you have no other risk factors. Being overweight increases your blood LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lowers HDL (good) cholesterol, and exacerbates other heart disease risks like diabetes and high blood pressure. Plus, carrying excess weight simply puts additional strain on the heart, forcing it to work harder. Calculating your body mass index (BMI) is one way to determine if you are overweight; losing just 10% of your body weight (if you are overweight) can improve your heart health.
5) Stress

 Experts aren’t sure why people with chronic stress have higher rates of heart disease, but they believe that stress (and the hormones it releases) may damage the arteries over time and make blood clots more likely to form. Just one stressful episode can elevate the heart rate and blood pressure for a short period, and even lead to a heart attack. Some people find unhealthy ways to deal with stress, such as overeating, smoking, or drinking (all risk factors in their own right). Identifying your stressors and dealing with them in a healthy way can help protect your heart.
6) Drinking Alcohol.

Drinking too much—and possibly too little—seems to increase one’s risk of heart disease. People who drink moderately (defined as an average of one drink day for women and two drinks daily for men) have a lower risk of heart disease than nondrinkers. However, the AHA does not recommend that teetotalers start drinking (or that drinkers increase the amount they drink) in order to achieve these purported benefits. Drinking too much has far more risks than not drinking. Too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and triglycerides, as well as contribute to obesity, irregular heartbeat, cardiomyopathy, alcoholism, heart failure, cancer, stroke and other diseases. To protect your heart, cut back on drinking; if you don’t drink often—or at all—don’t start.

C) Major Risk Factors (Traditional)

The following risk factors are largely controllable. Some people think of them as “symptoms” of heart disease, where others may view them as precursors.

1) High blood pressure (hypertension).

 Uncontrolled blood pressure can increase the workload of your heart, as well as harden and thicken the arteries, making it harder for blood to pass through. According to the AHA, high blood pressure coupled with other risk factors like obesity, smoking, high cholesterol or diabetes increases the risk of heart attack and stroke several times over. In many cases, high blood pressure can be controlled through lifestyle changes and medications.

2) High cholesterol.

As cholesterol levels rise, so does your risk for cardiovascular disease. High cholesterol (especially high levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol) can lead to artery blockage and damage, which contributes to heart disease and can lead to a heart attack. If you have high cholesterol along with other risk factors (like high blood pressure or tobacco use), you are at a much higher risk for heart disease. While some people are genetically predisposed to high cholesterol levels, lifestyle changes and medications can help control cholesterol levels.

3) Type 2 diabetes

People who have type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to experience heart disease or stroke—even if it is well managed. 65% of people with diabetes die of some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the AHA. If poorly managed, the risk is much higher, as uncontrolled blood sugar levels can damage the heart and veins. Type 2 diabetes is preventable. If you have diabetes, it’s extremely important to work with your healthcare provider to manage your condition and reduce any other risk factors you may have.

 D) Primary Risk Factors

Overall, of all the risk factors considered above, the cause of these risk factors themselves, like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, obesity and so on are again directly related to dietary factors. Eating higher amounts of sugars and carbohydrates leads to diabetes and obesity. High consumption of sugars increases the blood sugar levels. In response to this insulin is secreted in the blood to metabolize the sugars. Excess sugar is converted into glycogen and stored in the body as fat, thus leading to obesity. Ultimately it is related to the nutrition as a whole. It is well known that nutritional deficiencies do cause diseases depending upon which nutrient is deficient in the body. These types of risk factors are responsible for the cause of cardiovascular diseases and are discussed below:

1) Emerging Risk Factors

Several scientific studies have concluded that lipoprotein (a) is the emerging risk factor of heart disease and is directly linked to heart disease. The material present in the arterial plaque on analysis was found to consist of lipoprotein (a) with minor amounts of LDL cholesterol and some calcium deposits. It has also been determined that lipoprotein (a) is 300 times more atherogenic than LDL (bad) cholesterol. Lipoprotein (a) is similar in structure to low density cholesterol (LDL Cholesterol) with additional protein molecule  attached to LDL cholesterol. In heart patients the levels of lipoprotein (a) are found to be higher. Small amount of lipoprotein (a) are present in all of us because of genetic factors. Thus lowering lipoprotein (a) should offer a better way of keeping your cholesterol levels normal and for preventing and reversal of heart disease.

Apart for lp (a) which is considered as the emerging risk factor of heart disease, there several other risk factors that are identified and linked to heart disease. The other prominent emerging risk factor is C-reactive protein and homocysteine.

2) Nutrient deficiencyNutrient deficiency is the main risk factor for all the chronic diseases. Even WHO stresses this point and advises people to eat more of fruits and vegetables which provides the essential nutrients to the body. Several nutrients like Magnesium and vitamin c deficiency are the prime risk factors for heart disease.

3) Vitamin C deficiency

Vitamin C is a vital nutrient required by our body fro several functions and also for the synthesis of collagen, the main connective tissue present in the body. Deficiency of vitamin C causes scurvy, commonly known as sailors disease. Our body does not synthesize this essential nutrient in the body and is entirely dependent upon the food we eat. Its chronic deficiency causes lesions in the arteries and in order to prevent the blood from oozing out our body produces lipoprotein (a) which blocks these lesions. This is natures way of preventing us. thus vitamin C deficiency is also a  major risk factor of heart disease.

4) Dietary habits

Dietary habits determines the health of each and everyone of us. we are what we eat. Not providing all the nutrients required by each and every tissue of our body is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease as well as for all the chronic diseases. Malnourishment is the major cause of diseases in the under developed countries. In countries like USA eating highly nutritious food is also a risk factor. Our cells perform optimally under slightly alkaline conditions. The body pH should be maintained slightly on the alkaline side, ie between pH7.4 to 7.5.

Eating more of carbohydrates and sugary drinks produces acidosis in the body, meaning the body pH becomes acidic. Under conditions of acidosis, the body looses its immunity and becomes more susceptible to infection and other diseases. The body becomes deficient is certain nutrients which creates most of the problems. If people understand these simple principles of nutrition and diet, they can easily reverse and prevent heart disease.


A healthy heart needs sufficient oxygen and all the nutrients that our cells require and the nutrients should be available in adequate amounts. This way the arteries remain clean and the heart pumps blood to each and every tissue in the body.
Any deficiency of the nutrients leads to obstruction of blood flow caused due to atherosclerosis.

 The key to optimal health is providing all the nutrients to the body in adequate amount, exercise and eating an alkaline diet menu plan, which maintains the body pH slightly on the alkaline side.


1)  Better Health, “Heart disease-risk factors”, accessed on 10th May 2013, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au ;

2)  Sparkle people, “ risk of heart disease”, accessed on 10th May 2013, www.sparklepeople.com;

3)  Chinese School, “Heart disease risk factors” accessed on 10th May2013, www.chinese-school.netfirms.com;

4) WebMD, “Risk factors for heart disease”, accessed on 10th May, 2013, www.webmd.com;

5) World Heart federation, “Cardiovascular disease risk factors”, accessed on 10th May, 2013, www.world-heart-federation.org;

6)  Formulary, “Emerging Risk Factors”, accessed on 10th May, 2013, www.formularyjournal.modernmedicine.com






emerging risk factors for heart disease

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