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More than genes, it is the way we live that determines our risk of heart disease, India’s number one killer, writes Sanchita Sharma.

health and fitness Updated: Sep 30, 2007 01:34 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times

More than bad genes, it is the way you live your life that determines whether you are at risk of cardiovascular disease or not. “Over 90 per cent of heart disease depends on how we live our lives, our stresses, what we eat and how active we are,” says Dr Salim Yusuf, Professor of cardiology at the McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

Food Punch

Some foods, say experts, can bring huge health benefits if they are made a part of the daily diet and taken in the prescribed amount. One heaped teaspoon is roughly 5 grams.

Bengal Gram (50gm/day)
Decreases bad cholesterol and triglycerides, no significant change in good cholesterol. Lowers heart attack risk by 24 per cent.
Soya (50gm/day)
Lowers bad cholesterol. Cuts heart attack and stroke risk by 45 per cent.
Psyllium husk (Isabgol) (15gm/day)
Lowers cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar levels. Cuts heart risk down by 30 per cent, blood sugar levels go down in type-2 diabetes.
Garlic (3-4 doves)
Reduces plaque formation in the arteries and lowers heart-threatening homocysteine levels in the blood. Reduces heart risk by 30 per cent.
Fenugreek (25gm/day)
Anti-inflammatory actions prevent narrowing of arteries, lower cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Cuts back heart, stroke risk by 45 per cent, also lowers blood sugar in type-II diabetes.
Amla (two a day)
Rich in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that boosts immunity. Lowers heart and stroke risk by 24 per cent.

Dr Yusuf headed INTERHEART study, the world’s largest study on cardiovascular disease that followed 28,000 participants from 52 countries. It found that more than where you were born, what you did or how old you were, 90 per cent of first heart attacks could be attributed to risk factors that can disappear with lifestyle changes.

“Risk factors such as smoking, an abnormal ratio of good and bad cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, abdominal obesity, stress, not eating fruits and vegetables, and absence of daily exercise have a bigger impact on heart health than genetic predisposition,” says Dr Ashok Seth, chairman, Max Heart and Vascular Institute.

What puts Indians at higher risk is the way fat is distributed around their body. A Canadian study of four ethnic groups south Asians, Chinese, aboriginal populations and Caucasians found that for the same weight, south Asians had more body fat. Since Asians put on fat around their abdomen that further increases their risk of cardiovascular disease, a healthy diet becomes very important for prevention.

In India, people just don’t eat right. “People think they have a healthy diet because they are vegetarian, but they don’t. Indians eat too little protein that lowers heart-protecting good cholesterol, too much salt that raises blood pressure, and too much fat that clogs the arteries,” says Dr RR Kasliwal, consultant cardiologist, Apollo Hospital.

Adopting four healthy behaviours eating at least five fruits and vegetables a day, exercising for 2.5 hours a week, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight reduces cardiovascular risk by over one-third, reports The American Journal of Medicine. “The heart-protective benefits begin the moment a person makes healthy choices, so start now,” says Dr Seth.

First Published: Sep 29, 2007 23:33 IST