It's not too controversial to suggest that one of the chief causes of the epidemic of heart disease in the West is the industrialisation of our food supply, and the production of processed, packaged foods.
In the early part of the last century, there was virtually no coronary artery disease - and yet, within 40 years, it had become the main killer in the West, a position it still holds today. This rise coincides with the rise of the processed foods industry, amongst other things.
Indeed, there's a growing body of opinion that believes the cholesterol theory is a complete red herring. At best a high cholesterol level is a crude marker that something is awry. Half of all patients who suffer a heart attack have normal cholesterol levels, while many populations around the world whose natural diet is very rich in fats have normal cholesterol levels. Other studies have demonstrated that people on low-fat diets or with the lowest cholesterol levels are up to 40 per cent more likely to die earlier than those with higher cholesterol levels.
Instead, there seem to be just a few lifestyle factors that influence heart disease:
- diet, and especially one high in processed, pre-packaged and 'fast' foods, as well as drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- cigarette smoking
- obesity (linked to diet)
- diabetes (linked to diet)
- hereditary factors
- sedentary lifestyle with little or no exercise
- high blood pressure (usually the result of poor lifestyle choices)
- poor dental hygiene (strangely, studies have linked poor oral health to heart disease. Severe gum disease increases two-fold the risk of stroke)
- age - four out of five people who die from coronary heart disease are aged 65 years or older