Written by: Pooja Kasarapu
Medically reviewed by: Robert Philibert MD PhD
The spread of misinformation is sometimes not regarded as a serious issue. But in the case of health and wellbeing, it may prove to be fatal. Always check where you are getting your information from and ensure that it is from a credible source. Misinformation may even come from the most well-intentioned sources. Today, we want to bust a collection of popular myths that have widely circulated in the heart health community.
- “All fats are harmful.”
That is not true! There are three types of fats- trans, unsaturated and saturated. Saturated are the fats to avoid because they increase the levels of LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) in your blood. These fats are found in foods such as red meats, butter, and cheese.Trans fats are another one to keep out of your diet. They are, in fact, manufactured and do not often get produced naturally. A couple of decades ago, people were not aware of the dire impact trans fats could have on the body. Hence, they became a staple in so many of the foods we indulge in such as cookies, pizzas and pie crusts. The good news is, the FDA has strong regulations mandating disclosure if a food has trans fat in the Nutrition Facts. Try to buy products with as little trans fat as possible.Finally, we have unsaturated fats, which are not only sometimes beneficial towards your heart health but some, such as linoleic acid, are essential nutrients! Rich sources of unsaturated fats include avocados and many types of nuts. There are many ways to get creative and mimic the textures and flavors of trans and saturated fats using unsaturated fats.
- “Women are at very low risk for developing heart attacks.”
Heart attacks are the leading cause of death for women as well as men. But prior to this past decade, there was not as great as emphasis on heart care for women. This is rapidly changing. Still, it is vitally important to recognize the effect of gender on disease presentation. Women tend to experience their first heart attacks at an older age as compared to men. In fact, even then, the symptoms are not often recognized. Dr. Michael Azrin, director of the Interventional Cardiology and Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at the University of Connecticut, says these lack of recognition of early warning signs may allow a heart attack to take a woman by surprise.Women’s heart health is an urgent issue. We all share the responsibility of raising awareness about the risks of heart disease in women. Thankfully, there are organizations who are dedicated to promoting the need for women’s heart health and ensuring more women are aware of the dangers of heart disease. These initiatives include Go Red For Women and WomenHeart.
- “I need to exercise vigorously to keep my heart healthy.”
While intense exercise still does benefit heart health, it can prove to be exhausting and even pose risk of injury to those who are not used to such rigorous exercise. That is why 5-6 sessions of moderate to vigorous exercise every week may be sufficient to keep your heart in good shape. Moderate exertion does not require a gym or equipment. A jog outside or a few at home exercises may work well! Variation in your exercise routine may help. Your regimen does not need to include specific workouts. Instead, acceptable activity could be as simple as vacuuming the floors or anything that can get you off the sofa and moving. Ensure you are not remaining seated for an entire day and keep moving.
- “Heart disease is primarily caused by genetics.”
Genetics certainly do play a role in why an individual develops heart disease. However, it is lifestyle that influences the probability of suffering from cardiac disease the most. In fact, 90% of coronary artery disease is caused by lifestyle choice, says Dr. A. Marc Gillinov, Chairman of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at The Cleveland Clinic. This means that most cases of cardiac diseases are potentially preventable by making good choices and that genetic predisposition does not imply that one will develop heart disease. Nevertheless, if heart disease runs in your family and you are potentially at risk, visit your doctor to assess your risk and to come up with a treatment plan that is tailored for your heart health needs.
- “You will know if you are suffering from high blood pressure.”
Unfortunately, hypertension goes unnoticed in many individuals, which is what makes it one of the most dangerous heart diseases and why it has earned the name “the silent killer.” In 2018, the CDC reported nearly half a million deaths included hypertension as either a primary cause or contributing cause of death. The consequences of having untreated hypertension include damage to organs such as the kidney, brain and heart. Strokes are also a possibility because with hypertension, oxygen has a difficult time reaching the brain cells. Blood pressure can be measured using a blood pressure cuff. Measuring by sensation could be very inaccurate. If hypertension runs in your family, ensure that you regularly have your blood pressure checked. The CDC recommends making lifestyle changes to prevent or manage high blood pressure. These include incorporating a healthy diet, quitting smoking and exercising regularly.
Our final thoughts
When you have questions, do not hesitate to reach out to credentialled clinicians and be wary of the potential for misinformation. The American Heart Association described an instance where a woman initially declined to take statins, an important drug for reducing harmful cholesterol levels, after seeing misinformation about them on TV. Be judicious in what information you consume. Be wary of simple solutions for complex medical conditions that are promoted on the internet or late night TV. In “Dr. Google is a Liar,” a piece in the New York Times, Dr. Haider Warraich, a cardiology fellow at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina states that because the work of medications is not visible to the eye, patients may feel more insecure about their use. This is natural and the use of medications requires the trust of the scientific studies behind them. When in doubt, consult your physician. Do not let misinformation sow a seed of doubt that can impede a smart decision. The journey to good heart health begins with trusting relationships. The best time to begin that relationship with your physician may be now.
- “Facts About Hypertension,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm
- “Trans Fats,” American Heart Association, https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/trans-fat
- Woods, Lauren “Top 10 Heart Health Myths Busted,” UCONN Today, https://today.uconn.edu/2018/02/top-10-heart-health-myths-busted/
- Gillinova, A. Marc, “10 Heart Health Myths,” VeryWell Health, https://today.uconn.edu/2018/02/top-10-heart-health-myths-busted/
- “10 Heart Disease Myths You Shouldn’t Believe,” Cleveland Clinic, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/10-heart-disease-myths-you-shouldnt-believe/
- American Heart Association News, “Health experts ‘sound the alarm’ on medical misinformation,” American Heart Association, https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/01/28/medical-experts-sound-the-alarm-on-medical-misinformation
- Warraich, Haider, “Dr. Google is a Liar,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/16/opinion/statin-side-effects-cancer.html