Overweight? I may not discuss it
When people are massively overweight, it’s an obvious issue. When they’re only moderately overweight, it’s more difficult [to bring it up], because we accept people being a little overweight. It’s harder to tell someone like that they have weight to lose. —Stuart Connolly, MD, director, division of cardiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario Check out these 40 simple tricks to lose weight.
Thin people aren't necessarily in the clear
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Pay attention to how much sugar you eat and your blood sugar levels, even if you’re not overweight. Impaired glucose tolerance (higher than normal blood sugar but not high enough to be diabetes) increases your risk of diabetes, which increases your risk of heart disease. This is something people who are naturally skinny don’t pay attention to because they think they don’t need to because they’re skinny. —Monali Y. Desai, MD, cardiologist and founder of online health and wellness company If We Were Family Here's how to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Sugar is the real villain in heart disease, not fat
When you eat refined sugar, you create an insulin response that is toxic to blood vessel linings. Most attention seems to be on cholesterol; I don’t know that doctors are checking insulin and A1C levels [measures of diabetes risk, which is closely linked to heart health]. —Stephen Sinatra, MD, cardiologist and author of numerous books about heart health, including The Great Cholesterol Myth Here are 13 foods that cardiologists avoid, so you should too.
Most supplements do nothing for your heart health
Doctors who strongly recommend certain supplements are often the ones selling them in their office. For primary prevention, if you’re not eating fish two to three times a week, then fish oil is probably a good idea. I also recommend vitamin D because 80 percent of U.S. adults are deficient. Those are the only two I take. —Sarah Samaan, MD, cardiologist at The Legacy Heart Center in Plano, Texas and author of Best Practices for a Healthy Heart
If you or your spouse isn’t sleeping well, I want to know
Sleep apnea is a major cause of cardiac events such as heart attack, cardiac arrest, and stroke. If you suspect you have sleep apnea (snoring and feeling exhausted when you wake up are big clues, as are these sleep apnea symptoms), you should tell your doctor about it. And if your spouse is always nagging you for snoring, that’s an important sign too. —Stephen Sinatra, MD
Had a dramatic pregnancy? Tell me
Preeclampsia is a hidden risk factor for early heart disease. It tells me that there’s an underlying problem with the blood vessels. Young women should recognize it’s important for their doctor to know if they develop it. And most doctors won’t ask a 50-year-old woman about her pregnancy health from 25 years ago. The same goes for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Heart attacks are the number one cause of death in these patients, and they need aggressive management of risk factors. —Malissa J. Wood, MD, co-director of the Women’s Heart Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Here are some heart-healthy tips every woman should know.
Red wine isn’t a cure-all
My patients tell me, “I started drinking red wine” and I say “what for?” They think its good for the heart, but you have to be careful not to overdo it and raise your risk of other health issues. Same goes for dark chocolate. People think that you can eat as much as you want. It is good for you—it lowers blood pressure and has antioxidants—but most people are not eating just that one ounce a day. —Stephen Sinatra, MD
What makes me mad? Smoking
If someone’s a smoker, they gotta stop. I feel sick when I talk to people who still smoke. It’s never too late to stop. Even quitting in your seventies improves survival. If patients want to do one thing for their health, it would be to stop smoking. —Stuart Connolly, MD Try these 23 ways to quit smoking for good.
It’s easier for me to prescribe you a drug than to address lifestyle factors
Emotional toxicity is a major cause of heart disease. Depression, heartbreak, and uncontrolled anger are major risk factors. A good cardiologist can see that a patient is suffering from these issues. Many doctors believe in drugs but less in healing the whole person. —Stephen Sinatra, MD
Stress can be a major contributor
Stress can increase your blood pressure and cholesterol, which can increase your risk of heart disease, so it’s important to learn how to manage it. I recommend patients try using yoga and meditation, among other things, to try to deal with everyday stress from work and family life. —Monali Y. Desai, MD Learn more about how stress and heart disease are connected—and how to prevent both.