Deepak Chopra, MD
You might have heard the expression “You’re as young as your arteries”—and it’s true. But understanding how to keep arteries young and our heart healthy is a mystery for many. The cardiovascular continuum is a way of thinking about cardiovascular disease, like heart attacks and atherosclerosis, as later complications in a long chain of events. These events begin with risk factors for cv disease, such as smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure. They can start early—even in childhood. If these risk factors aren’t addressed, you’re your cardiovascular health gets progressively worse over a period of decades.
Each year, nearly 450,000 Americans die from smoking related illnesses. That's more than all deaths from HIV/AIDS, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined. So why do smokers continue to light up when statistics like these make it clear that they should quit? Nicotine addiction is powerful, which makes quitting difficult—but it is possible. There are now 45 million smokers, but 47 million successful quitters. By understanding nicotine addiction and withdrawal, you can be better prepared to crush out this destructive habit for good.
For many people, all it takes is eating that one extra doughnut or going to bed on a very full stomach. An uncomfortable burning sensation creeps into the throat or chest, and it doesn’t go away until you take some antacid. Almost everyone experiences occasional heartburn or acid reflux (regurgitation of stomach fluid).In fact, 60 million Americans report getting heartburn at least once a month. Occasional heartburn or reflux is not something to worry about.
But if you have more two or more heartburn or acid reflux episodes every week, or if the attacks interfere with your life and keep you awake at night, you should see your doctor. You may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and it’s not something you should ignore: In rare cases, GERD can be a precursor to esophageal cancer.
Your knee joints are one of the unsung heroes of your body. If you’re like the average American, you take just over 5,000 steps a day, and each one of those steps places a force equal to 3-to-6 times your body weight on your knee joints. It’s no wonder that by the time you reach age 60, chances are good you will have developed osteoarthritis of the knee, a sometimes-painful condition caused by wear and tear to the knee joint. More than 20 million Americans currently have this condition, and that number is expected to soar as high as 70 million during the next two decades as baby boomers age and obesity, a major risk factor for the disease, increases. While many people with knee osteoarthritis never have symptoms, others experience stiffness and dull pain, especially upon waking, or, in extreme cases, severe pain that limits their mobility.
The list of health risks tied to being overweight or obese seems to increase every year—along with the nation’s waistline. While losing weight can be challenging, there are new, compelling reasons to try to shed those extra pounds—especially if they’re around your middle.
Scientists used to think that fat was a relatively passive substance: It was simply stored energy. But recent research suggests that fat cells are biologically active. They secrete dozens of hormones and other chemicals that affect nearly every organ system in the body. When your weight is normal, these hormones and chemicals keep you healthy: They dampen your appetite after a meal, burn stored fat, regulate insulin, and protect against diabetes, among other functions.
If you’re concerned with eating healthy, you may have heard about “functional foods.” Nutritionists and marketers use this term to describe foods that go beyond the basics of supplying nutrients to the body and appear to help ward off and combat certain chronic illnesses.
In a way, these foods are misnamed--they are far more than simply functional. The New York Times calls them “foods with benefits.” While many functional foods deliver real potential health benefits, consumers need to be aware of packaged foods that use the term mostly as a marketing tool. To make smart choices, you have to distinguish the products that offer more hype than health from the foods that may really make a difference.
The human body responds to stress with a powerful fight-or-flight reaction. Hormones surge through the body, causing the heart to pump faster and sending extra supplies of energy into the bloodstream. For much of human history, this emergency response system was useful: It enabled people to survive immediate physical threats like an attack from a wild animal. But today, the stress in most people’s lives comes from the more psychological and seemingly endless pressures of modern life. Daily challenges like a long commute or a difficult boss can turn on the stress hormones—and because these conditions don’t go away, the hormones don’t shut off. Instead of helping you survive, this kind of stress response can actually make you sick.
Between work, raising a family, and coping with an uncertain economy, stress has become a “normal” part of daily life for most people. That could explain why so many Americans—about 16 million at latest count—have started taking yoga classes or doing yoga at home. This ancient practice, which started in India more than 4,000 years ago, connects mind and body through a series of postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. By stretching and toning the muscles, flexing the spine, and focusing the mind inward, yoga helps reduce stress. That can impact your overall health since stress plays at least some role in many illnesses. Studies show that chronic stress doubles the risk of heart attack, for instance.
When you order fish in a restaurant these days, you might feel you need a marine biologist to help you make your selection rather than a waiter. Figuring out which fish is safe to eat—and how often you should eat fish—has become fraught with worry, mainly due to concerns about mercury content. You might be tempted to swear off seafood completely to keep things simple. But if you do, you’ll miss out on the health benefits of eating fish, including the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in many fish. A wiser approach is to understand why mercury is a concern and when to avoid certain seafood.
Processed foods are one of the things people are often told to cut back on when they’re trying to follow a healthy diet. In recent years, one particular processed food ingredient, known as high-fructose corn syrup, has been singled out as a possible health risk. Some researchers have suggested that it might be linked to a rise in obesity rates and related health problems like diabetes. What exactly is high-fructose corn syrup? Is it really bad for you?