The Nation's Health + [life]

Heart disease: Light the fuse of heart disease

Father Bob, despite his calling as a priest and counselor, led a stressful life. His average day was packed tightly with commitments: counseling members of his congregation, visiting the hospital, more official priest and church duties.

At age 53, his heart scan score of 799 came as a complete surprise. Even more of a surprise, his stress test was dramatically abnormal showing poor flow in the front of his heart at a level of exercise that wouldn't challenge most 75 year olds. His blood pressure with exericse: 230/100. Bob was shocked.

A few stents to the LDL later, Bob was trying to turn a new leaf on lifestyle. His life prior to the diagnosis of heart disease was driven by convenience. Because his day was so filled with commitments, he simply grabbed what he could from hospital cafeterias, fast foods, etc.

But after his procedure, Bob committed to choosing healthier foods, walk every day, and resist the food temptations presented by convenience.

However, temptation defeated him twice in the first few weeks after his stents. On the first occasion, Bob gave into eating a cheeseburger. On the second, Bob was at a fish fry (this is Wisconsin, after all) and ate a large serving of deep-fried fish.

On both occasions, Bob started feeling awful within minutes after eating: foggy, bloated, gassy, and fatigued. He took his blood pressure after each incident: 210/90, even though his blood pressure had more recently been trending down towards 130/80.

What happened? Grotesquely unhealthy foods like the deep-fried fish and cheeseburger provoke an abnormal constrictive process body wide. Some call this "endothelial dysfunction". Regardless, it is a graphic and frightening demonstration of the power of these sorts of unhealthy foods to wreak immediate and dangerous effects. Father Bob's response was more exagerrated than most, but it happens to all of us.

Eat badly and your body will pay the price. Even that occasional hot chocolate sundae or Egg McMuffin will yield cumulative injury, among which will be a rise in your heart scan score.