Popular Myths that Surround Heart Problems
Popular issues are often surrounded by half-truths and completely false statements. Unfortunately, medicine is no exception. The information regarding health problems is overflowing with false and outdated information. As a result, even some doctors who are not up-to-date, may harbor some false opinions.
In this article, we will unveil some of the popular myths and half-truths regarding the circulatory system in order to ensure that our readers know what is good for the heart and what is not.
There is a common misconception that salt can cause heart problems, namely hypertension. This myth is so wide-spread due to the fact that doctors themselves believed it to be true until recent research has revealed that there is no correlation between the salt intake and the development of hypertension.
The belief that salt can cause hypertension goes all the way back to 1904, when doctors from France had reported that six of their patients with hypertension also consumed large amounts of salt. In the 1970s, Lewis Dahl of The Brookhaven National Laboratory had “irrefutable” evidence that salt causes hypertension, by inducing hypertension in rats by feeding them a human equivalent of 500 grams of salt per day. Dahl had also shown that nations, such as Japan, whose cuisine includes large amounts of salt, also have more people who suffer from hypertension. However, when scientists compared subjects within a population, no correlation was found, meaning that other factors such as genetics or cultural habits were at play.
In a large study1, which encompassed 52 international research centers, found there is no relationship between prevalence of hypertension and sodium intake. Moreover, a group of subjects who consumed about 14 grams of salt per day (7 times greater than the recommended amount) had lower median blood pressure than subjects who consumed 7.2 grams of salt per day.
Another study2 done in 2006 by The American Journal of Medicine has followed a large mass of subjects over 14 year period. Interestingly, this study has shown that the more salt the people consumed, the less likely they were to die from heart disease. Similarly, the European Journal of Epidemiology which followed 1,500 subjects over 5 years has found no correlation between sodium intake and the risk of coronary vascular diseases.
Сan a person safely eat as much salt as he or she wants?
No. Even though sodium chloride does not cause cardiovascular diseases, it can result in other, no less dire, consequences 3. In the human body sodium chloride is metabolized into noncarbonic acids which increase the acidity of the blood. As a person ages, the ability of the kidneys to normalize the acidity of the blood diminishes, which forces the body to use base stores (located in bone and skeletal muscles) to compensate for the acidity. This leads to the development of renal stones, osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass, and gradual renal insufficiency.
In order to combat this, a person needs to consume no more than 2 grams of salt per day, while also having a potassium-rich diet (fruits and vegetables) which promotes the formation of alkaline metabolites.
People with heart failure are also advised against consuming salt in large quantities, since they already suffer from water retention, and extra salt can only worsen the condition.
For the longest time, most people and doctors as well, thought that dietary cholesterol is harmful for a person’s health. This belief appeared when scientists discovered that elevated levels of blood cholesterol correlated with atherosclerosis. However, all recent studies agree that this is not the case. Only 30% of the population have blood cholesterol rise as a result of an increased consumption of dietary cholesterol, and even then, it doesn’t affect the person’s health unless there is some additional health condition. “And even then, dietary cholesterol is not the biggest thing people with heart disease should worry about,” says Kathy McManus, MS, RD, Director of Nutrition at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston4.
In a study conducted by The Harvard Medical School, researchers analyzed 120,000 people and found that having about 200 mg of cholesterol per day (about 1 egg) did not increase the risk of stroke or heart disease. Additionally, in 2008 a more recent research done by The Harvard Medical School concluded that a healthy person can eat as many as 7 eggs per day without increasing the chances of heart disease5.
Does this mean that dietary cholesterol is completely safe?
No. Cholesterol intake does not affect a person’s health if they are completely healthy. On the other hand, people with diabetes were more prone to developing heart disease if they consumed too much dietary cholesterol. Although it should be noted that, for this group of people, saturated fats and trans fats were much more harmful than dietary cholesterol. As well, people with familial hypercholesterolemia are advised against consuming additional cholesterol and therefore they should try to avoid eggs, organ meats, and shellfish.
In the past, when very little was known about the origins of various diseases, people were content with the idea that stress causes many diseases. Whether it was a stomach ulcer or hypertension, most people and even doctors would simply state that it is entirely due to a person worrying too much. Even now, many doctors, who do not want to lose face by saying they don’t know the origin of some diseases, will claim that the disease is caused by stress6.
Yes, stress can play a role of a trigger factor for various conditions; however, in most cases, the underlying condition is more tangible. For example, primary hypertension strongly correlates with the development of atherosclerosis. As a result of atherosclerosis, not only do blood vessels become too rigid and cannot dilate as much due to an increase in blood volume, but the atheromas that form in the arteries of kidneys cause the kidneys to release renin – an enzyme that is a part of the body’s renin-angiotensin system which regulates the body’s arterial blood pressure. This increases the blood pressure, which in turn increases the rate at which the atheromas are formed. This creates a downward spiral which should be dealt with as soon as possible by using antihypertensive drugs.
Are there any diseases that are caused solely by stress?
Yes, of course. However, they are usually within the realm of psychology and psychiatry. For example, neurotic disorders are believed to be caused by stress, although the definite cause still remains unclear. Post-traumatic stress disorder is strongly linked to extreme stress and is very serious condition which remains untreatable at the present time.
Myths about medicine will exist for as long as there are uninformed people making statements. Unlike other myths, the ones connected to medicine can cause harm, which is why it is essential for everyone to ensure that the information they have comes from reliable sources. This especially concerns doctors, since people seem to think that if a person wears a white coat, he or she will know everything there is to know about medicine. This is far from the truth and why it is always recommended to obtain second opinions.
1 The INTERSALT Study: Background, Methods, Findings, and Implications, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, February 1997: 65(2); 6265-6425, J. Stamler.
2 Sodium Intake and Mortality in the NHANES II Follow-Up Study, American Journal of Medicine, March 2006: 119(3); 275.e7-14, H. W. Cohen, et al.
3 Adverse effects of sodium chloride on bone in the aging human population resulting from habitual consumption of typical American diets. J Nutr. 2008 Feb; 138(2):419S-422S.
4 Kathy McManus, MS, RD, director of nutrition, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Boston.Clarke et al, British Medical Journal, May 27, 1997; pp 112-17
5 Djousse and Gaziano, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2008; pp 799-800
6 Marshall, IJ; Wolfe, CD; McKevitt, C (Jul 9, 2012). "Lay perspectives on hypertension and drug adherence: systematic review of qualitative research". BMJ (Clinical research ed.)