News ID: 259810
Published: 1107 GMT October 06, 2019

80 percent of heart attacks, strokes can be prevented in South Africa

80 percent of heart attacks, strokes can be prevented in South Africa

In South Africa, 225 people are killed by heart diseases every single day. A sobering number indeed but on the positive side, up to 80 percent of heart diseases and strokes can be prevented, said Bianca Tromp, dietitian at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa.

In an interview with the Courier, Tromp discussed various aspects of this health issue that affects so many South Africans:


Why does South Africa have such a high number of heart disease cases?

There are many risk factors for heart disease. These risk factors include unhealthy eating behavior, tobacco smoking, sedentary lifestyle, stress, being overweight, high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood cholesterol levels and a family history of heart disease. A combination of these risk factors are causing South Africans to have a high prevalence of heart disease.

A third of South Africans have hypertension although 50 percent are unaware of their blood pressure measurement. Hypertension has been described as a silent killer as it rarely presents with symptoms.

The prevalence of overweight and obesity, another risk factor for heart disease, is alarmingly high in South Africa where 31 percent of men and 68 percent of women are overweight and obese. It is even more alarming that 13.3 percent of children under the age of five are already overweight.


Does diet impact on heart disease and what kind of diet is recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease?

There are many aspects of your diet that can either protect or harm your heart and vascular system. The DASH diet — Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension — is the perfect diet to reduce your risk of heart disease. This diet promotes fruits and vegetables and unsaturated fat while limiting saturated fat and sodium/salt.

A diet high in salt has been directly linked to high blood pressure. Therefore, people need to limit the amount of salt they consume. The World Health Organization recommends less than 5g of salt a day (one level teaspoon). This does not only refer to the salt added during cooking, but also the salt already present in some foods when bought from the supermarket

Consuming high amounts of saturated fat, including fat from animal sources, can increase blood cholesterol levels. Rather reduce the amount of saturated fat consumed and replace these unsaturated fats — which have protective qualities — in moderation.

Instead of animal fat, butter and cream, include nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, avocados, olives and fish. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in sardines are also advised. Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals and therefore antioxidants.

Antioxidants protect the blood vessels from oxidative damage which could otherwise lead to atherosclerosis — the plague formation on the inside of a blood vessel wall that can lead to blood vessel obstruction- and therefore protects against heart disease and strokes. Eating real food is always better than taking supplements — nothing can substitute it.


Is there anything one can do if this ailment is hereditary?

A genetic predisposition for heart disease does increase one’s risk. Combining a genetic predisposition with an unhealthy lifestyle exponentially increases the risk. If you have a family history of heart disease it is extremely important to have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked once a year.

If you are diagnosed with blood pressure or high cholesterol, these conditions can easily be treated by medication and lifestyle changes. Reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy body weight, eating healthy, exercising regularly and not smoking.


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