The Heart in Health and Disease

It is not as easy as it has been to obtain financial grants to study complexities of heart disease. The energy that should be devoted to pursuing the nation's number one killer is often being diverted to developing new anatomical plumbing devices such as the artificial heart and synthetic valves.

Yet more is now known about the causes of coronary disease than ever before. Credible theories are being established that link heart attacks to improper diet, the build-up of cholesterol in arteries, high blood pressure, and a concept that emotions and personality can influence healthful functioning of the heart.

The problem? Specialists in the field seldom agree that many factors may contribute to cardiac distress. The quest for only a single villain seems to occupy the collective imagination of scientific thinking in that field.

If you have already suffered a heart attack, then considerable divergent advice is available. The physician, often intimidated by spectacular success of surgery, too often only acts as a conduit between patient and the operating room.

A more conservative doctor may take the patient through variations of drug therapy. In the case of a more daring professional, the sufferer could be lucky enough to be given dietary advice: cut down on animal fats, modify work habits, and control behavior.

Few primary physicians, unfortunately, believe that a complete regimen of diet, emotional rehabilitation (like solving the problems of "Type A" Behavior), and nutrient supplementation can be helpful.

It is in the hands of the general practitioner, however, that the afflicted can find proper guidance, in alternatives to surgery, and an effective preventative program.

The family doctor is singularly in a position to take the time needed to investigate a patient's lifestyle and determine how much potential risk is involved. The cardiogram is seldom enough.

Cardiologists, the specialists, seldom have time to indulge in preventive medicine. By the time the sufferer reaches his office, the . inevitable "high level" therapy is usually called for.

Yet, it is the cardiologists who could be of greatest influence in making the profession aware of the need for preventive measures.

Surgeons, the elite of the professions, are certainly enjoying unprecedented success in achieving mechanical triumph over a deteriorating cardiovascular system. No other branch of medicine has so approached the mythical wonders of Dr. Frankenstein's prowess.

As masters of such modern-day magic, they are exquisitely prepared to handle, fondle, and manipulate the human heart. Having made astounding discoveries about cause and effect, what concerned surgeon is not impressed when he removes an artery choked with cholesterol? Could he ever again believe that a cholesterol-filled diet or stress play no part in heart disease?

The psychiatrist, another specialist in the unique relationship between body and mind, is especially qualified to observe and warn against impending cardiac disaster.

Too often, however, there is reluctance to venture beyond .the comfortable pursuit of the neuroses. Nor are there many patients who will believe that research has unearthed facts implicating personality and unresolved emotional turmoil with aberrations of cardiac functioning.

Few practitioners of medicine will argue that emotions are not entwined with disease. Medical observers admit they have seen such proof in heightened cholesterol levels and constriction of blood vessels in people under severe stress. Like the psychiatric profession, not enough practitioners are willing to recognize a truth "before its time."

The nutritionist, upon whom so much hope should rest, wanders through a field equally divided. Despite the evidence being unearthed by epidemiologists (researchers who study groups of people for the specific purpose of establishing cause and effect linking heartattacks with dietary habits, emotional tranquility, and blood pressure responses), many professional nutritionists seem to ignore overwhelming knowledge acquired during the past decades. Too many are frozen in the belief that "three square meals" constitute a proper diet.

Thanks to researchers in the physical sciences and clinical psychologists exploring the psychodynamic principles of mind and body, priceless clues are discovered to the mystery of cardiac disease.

In the meantime, the primary physician, especially privileged to know his patients intimately, has the responsibility of employing the new techniques, possible alternatives to drugs and surgery.

The Heart and the Rhythm of Life
The average healthy person enjoys a heartbeat of about 80 beats a minute. In a lifetime, the organ pumps enough blood to fill a stadium and produces enough power to light up a small town.

The heart seldom breaks down of its own weakness. The body's inability to supply it with the nourishment of good, rich blood and the degeneration of other organs, more often than not, contribute to cardiac disease.

The heart consists of four chambers, comprising a magnificent system for supplying itself and processing spent blood from the veins back into the system, purified and regenerated.

The kidneys are supplied with about 20 percent of the reconditioned blood, the skeletal muscles between 10 and 25 percent (depending upon the need they have at the moment), while the brain is fed 10 percent, the skin between 1 and 9 percent, and the liver and intestines between 20 to 25 percent, depending upon whether digestion is taking place.

Because so many organs have such varying requirements, the heart's adaptability is one of the wonders of creation. It can adjust to a runner's need in a moment, to the skin's reaction to change of temperature, to the stressful variations of emotions.

The most common heart disease is atherosclerosis, a disease caused by a narrowing of the arteries because of plaque build-up, usually consisting of cholesterol and fibrous tissue. Flow of blood vessels is impeded, resulting in severe deprivation to the heart.

(Editor's note: This article originally appeared in Nutrition Health Review, Issue #36.) There is no shortage of information about coronary disease — only an indifference and lack of agreement about cause and prevention.

PHOTO (COLOR): The cardiovascular system consists of 70,000 miles of veins, arteries, capillaries, and arterioroles. Like an intricate waterway, they are all connected and carry blood from the heart and back again to the organs. The formation of arterial "sludge" has been attributed principally to improper diet consisting of cholesterol derived from animal fats.

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By William Renaurd

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