So you think you're on top of your heart health knowledge because you know your cholesterol levels, your weight and your blood pressure.
But what about your c-reactive protein number? Do you know if you suffer from metabolic syndrome?
Cardiac health expert Joseph Piscatella says those are a couple of the newest predictors of heart disease, yet most people have no idea what the terms mean.
The Gig Harbor author explains the latest thinking in cardiac health in “Prevent Halt & Reverse Heart Disease: 109 Things You Can Do.” Piscatella wrote the book, which came out in January, with Barry A. Franklin, director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Exercise Laboratories at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. It’s an update of their 2003 work, “Take a Load off Your Heart: 109 Things You Can Actually Do to Prevent, Halt and Reverse Heart Disease.”
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Piscatella says the 2011 book incorporates the most current research on cardiac disease, along with his experience gleaned from maintaining a healthy lifestyle for decades after undergoing coronary bypass surgery.
“What we know today is that heart disease is an inflammatory disease just like lupus,” he said in a telephone interview from North Carolina, where he was addressing cardiologists about the role of diet, exercise and stress in heart disease. “What triggers a heart attack is inflammation of the coronary arteries. It’s not the cholesterol sitting on the arteries, it’s inflammation.”
He encourages people at increased risk for heart attack – including women past menopause and men over 40 years old – to be tested for their “c-reactive proteins” or CRP. More and more physicians test for the protein, which is present in blood during episodes of acute artery inflammation.
“Heart attack risk begins to rise with CRP levels such as 0.55 to 0.99 milligrams per deciliter,” the book says. “Levels above 2.5 are linked with a twofold to fourfold increase in cardiac risk.”
Piscatella also presents updated research on the connection between weight and cardiac health.
While excessive weight has long been associated with heart attack risk, research is showing that fat in the abdomen is more hazardous than fat stored in the upper arms, thighs or other parts of the body, he said. Pot belly fat is so dangerous, it’s called toxic fat because it’s more metabolically active than other types of fat cells.
“Today, in this obese society, there’s no shortage of women with pot bellies; that’s one of the reasons women have caught up to men,” in heart attacks, Piscatella said. “In the last four years, we’ve had more women die of heart attacks than men. Most women are so busy worrying about breast cancer, they haven’t gotten the message.”
Combine a pot belly with a high level of bad cholesterol (LDL), a low level of good cholesterol (HDL), high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, diabetes or pre-diabetes, and you have a heart disease risk factor called metabolic syndrome. The cluster of metabolic abnormalities is believed to speed the development of coronary heart disease, especially in women and diabetics, the book says.
Piscatella breaks down the medical concepts into layman’s language, so patients can have informed discussions with their doctors.
“We have so many people who only know their total cholesterol level,” he said. “If that’s all you know, you don’t have a clue as to what’s going on in your cardiovascular system.”
Yet while the book covers the markers of heart disease, the focus is on providing steps to prevent and reverse the condition.
It’s packed with tips on how to lose weight, exercise and reduce stress. For instance, since the most effective exercise is done at a sustained moderate-to-vigorous pace, the book recommends people be able to carry on a conversation while exercising, even though their forehead is “dewed” with sweat. Walkers are advised to maintain an aggressive stride, pump their arms and break a sweat on their upper lip, at a speed of 3.5-4 mph.
Piscatella says he’s living proof that individuals can reverse heart disease by changing their lifestyle. After he had bypass surgery at age 32, Piscatella was told he likely wouldn’t live to see his 40th birthday. Today, he is an active 66-year-old, traveling the country to talk to corporations, everyday people and medical professionals about heart-healthy living.
“Instead of relying on that (initial) prognosis, I put my faith in managing diet, exercise and stress,” Piscatella said. “I’m here 33 years later.”
Debby Abe: 253-597-8694 firstname.lastname@example.org
Prevent, Halt & Reverse Heart Disease
By Joseph C. Piscatella & Barry A. Franklin
382 pages $15.95
More info.: www.joepiscatella.com