September 21, 2008

Heart Disease is a Family Affair

EVER heard of the saying "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree"? It means that children tend to inherit the characteristics, personalities and habits of their parents. Unfortunately, this includes the risks of developing certain diseases such as heart disease.

Heart disease is indeed a family affair. The risk of developing heart disease greatly depends on family history and an unhealthy lifestyle.


According to the Framingham Heart Study published in the May 2004 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, it was found that having one parent with premature heart or vascular disease can double or even triple one's risk of premature heart disease. If both parents had premature heart disease, a daughter would have three times the risk and a son twice the risk.

The risk of heart disease is not restricted to parent-child relationships alone. Having a first-degree relative with heart disease increases your risk of developing premature heart disease. The more family members you have with heart disease, the higher your potential risk.

And that's not all. If you have a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, your risk of getting heart disease is also increased.


"Another major risk factor for heart disease is an unhealthy lifestyle," says Indra Balaratnam, a consultant dietitian. "Our eating habits, level of physical activity and ability to cope with stress all affect our risk of heart disease."

All habits - good and bad - run in the family. Just as many of yours were shaped by your parents, you are now shaping your children's. Think of the habits you are cultivating in your children. Are these habits putting them at risk of heart disease and other lifestyle-related diseases?


Heart disease is the top killer in Malaysia and around the world, and it is claiming more and more lives by the day. Take action to prevent it by practising a healthy lifestyle today.

- Know your family history: Is there a history of heart disease in your family? What are the medical histories of immediate family members and relatives? If you find that there is a consistent trend of heart disease in your family, you can start taking steps early to lower your risks as well as your children's.

- Eat the heart healthy way: The principles of a heart healthy diet are simple - high-fibre, low-salt and low-fat. Increase fibre intake by including more fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods. Avoid foods that are high in cholesterol, saturated fats and trans (hydrogenated) fats and oils.

One way to eat a heart healthy diet is to start having more meals at home. By doing this, you can exercise more control over your food choices and the way they are prepared.

- Emphasise oats in your family : The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that "diets high in oatmeal or oat bran and low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease". Specifically, oat soluble fibre (beta-glucan) helps lower cholesterol in the blood.

"When you eat food that contains soluble fibre (beta glucan) that is found in food such as oats or barley, the soluble fibre binds the cholesterol-laden bile acids in your gut and both are eliminated through the bowels," says Indra.

"This means the cholesterol is kept from entering your bloodstream, leading to lower blood cholesterol and a reduced risk of heart disease."

He also encourages families to make whole grains, such as oats a part of their daily diets.

"If you and your family have normal cholesterol levels, eating oats will ensure that your hearts stay healthy. If you have high cholesterol, two bowls of oats a day -- about 70g - will give you about three grams of beta-glucan that can effectively lower your blood cholesterol levels."

When it comes to cultivating a love for oats in your family, be a good role model by eating oats yourself and then find ways to make it fun and interesting for your children.

"Entice your children into eating oats by adding their favourite toppings such as raisins, fresh fruits, sliced almonds and dried apricots for added flavours," says Indra.

"The neutral taste of oats means it is versatile and can be eaten not just at breakfast but throughout the day.

"Oats are a 100 per cent natural, low-fat source of energy that helps you keep your weight in check. Because they take longer to digest, they keep you and the kids full for a longer time, leaving little room for unnecessary, unhealthy snacking."

- Play together, stay together: There are many things you can do as a family that do not revolve around the television or the shopping mall. For instance, why not visit a playground, go cycling around the neighbourhood, go to the water park or have a fun day at the nearest beach?

The important thing is to find activities that every member of the family will enjoy; activities that require everyone to get off their seats and get moving!

As a parent, you have a responsibility to introduce, cultivate and model positive habits to every member of your family. Start now to ensure strong hearts and good health for those you love.

* This article is courtesy of the Quaker Smart Heart programme, which supports the Yayasan Jantung Malaysia Healthy Heart programme

(c) 2008 New Straits Times. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.