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Discover why certain factors increase your risk of developing five of Australia's deadliest diseases and how you can fight back, writes Karen Fittall.
Coronary heart disease
Statistics reveal: One in three Australian women will develop coronary heart disease (CHD), which causes heart attacks and kills more of us than any other disease.
1. High cholesterol. It's cholesterol that 'causes' CHD, when it's deposited in the lining of the coronary arteries where they bend and divide. "This makes the arteries narrower," says Dr Neale Cohen, general manager diabetes services, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute. "And the narrower they become, the less blood flow there is. They can eventually clog up completely." The more cholesterol there is
in the blood, the greater the chance that this will occur.
2. High blood pressure. When blood is pumping around your body at a higher pressure than normal,
it places more stress where the arteries bend and divide, increasing the rate at which cholesterol deposits build up.
3. Depression. Recognised by the Heart Foundation as an independent risk factor for heart disease, according to US researchers, depression might create physiological changes that reduce the ability of the heart's blood vessels to dilate.
Another group of US researchers say depression triggers the accumulation
of visceral or stomach fat, a known risk factor for heart disease, by creating a number of inflammatory chemical changes in the body.
1. Limit your saturated fat intake. Saturated fat contributes most to
blood cholesterol levels. If you're aged over 45, have your cholesterol levels checked regularly.
2. Have your blood pressure tested. High blood pressure is usually symptom free,
so it's important to have it checked regularly by your GP. Exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a low-salt diet can help lower blood pressure.
3. Tackle depression early.
If you notice symptoms of depression, act early. For more information, visit www.beyondblue.org.au.
Statistics reveal: 1.7 million Australians have diabetes, a figure that's set to double in the next 20 years. But up to 60 per cent of type 2 diabetes is preventable.
1. Being overweight. "When they're excessive, fat cells destroy insulin-producing cells," says Cohen. At the same time, something called 'insulin resistance' occurs, where cells become less sensitive to whatever insulin the hormone that clears glucose from the blood is produced by the pancreas. Combined, it means the body can no longer keep blood glucose levels within
a normal range.
2. Having had gestational diabetes. Diabetes that occurs and is diagnosed during pregnancy usually disappears after the baby is born, but leaves the mother at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in later life. "In the mother, glucose levels become higher than normal due to the effect of pregnancy hormones on insulin, so that a state of insulin resistance occurs. We liken this to pre-diabetes, where having experienced it at some stage in your life places you at an increased risk of it occurring again."
3. Lack of exercise. "Apart from the fact that if you're not exercising, you're more likely to be overweight, exercise itself is good for the body," says Cohen. "Muscle soaks up sugar
for energy, which takes the pressure off the pancreas."
1. Maintain a healthy weight. "Waist measurement is a good measure of weight," says Cohen, "because the most toxic type of fat is the type that gathers around the stomach." Women are at an increased risk of developing a chronic disease such as diabetes when their waist measures more than 80cm, and a greatly increased risk when it's more than 88cm.
2. Be aware if you had gestational diabetes. And take measures to lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
3. Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days, ideally every day.
Statistics reveal: Dementia risk increases with age, so that one in four Australians aged over 85 are affected.
1. High blood pressure.
"In Alzheimer's disease, protein fragments called beta amyloids accumulate to form plaques in the brain," says Robyn Faine, manager of services at Alzheimer's Australia NSW. "We think that one of the ways high blood pressure contributes to risk is that it exacerbates this process."
2. Smoking. Two recent studies confirmed that smoking is a risk factor for dementia, and experts believe that it's due to smoking's impact on the cardiovascular system, including the fact that it increases blood pressure.
3. Being socially isolated. Research shows how 'loneliness' more than doubles your risk of developing dementia. Because interacting with people involves many cognitive functions, it contributes to 'brain reserve', building up a reserve of healthy neurons and synapses in the brain that might protect against dementia.
1. Get your blood pressure under control. And don't leave it too late.
"It's high blood pressure in midlife that contributes significantly to an increased risk of developing dementia in later years," says Faine.
2. Quit smoking. Research shows how, over time, 'former smokers' are no longer at an increased
risk of dementia when compared with 'never smokers', suggesting that quitting smoking can lower dementia risk.
3. Make an effort to socialise. Expanding your social network, seeing friends regularly and engaging in community or volunteer work were all found to have a protective effect against dementia.
Find more of this article in the
November issue of New Zealand Good Health magazine at magshop.co.nz.