The big three: Blood Pressure, Cholesterol and Diabetes
Ischemic heart disease (heart attack), cerebrovascular disease (like stroke), and diabetes are the leading causes of mortality globally and Malaysia. What is worrisome is that in many parts of Asia, including Malaysia, these conditions are rising.
Vascular diseases and metabolic disorders are highly preventable. However, people continue to neglect their early signs. Thus, many people are living with poorly managed hypertension (HTN), hyperlipidemia (HLD), and diabetes (DM).
Common causes of High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol, Diabetes
First and foremost, it is vital to understand that these conditions are interrelated. It means that any effort to prevent one disease would undoubtedly help with other conditions.
Just take the example of hypertension. It increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, both of which are among the top five causes of death in Malaysia and even globally. Thus, if one controls hypertension, one can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Similarly, diabetes may not kill many people directly. However, it is contributing factor to many other illnesses. A person living with diabetes or high blood sugar is at considerably greater risk of heart attack, stroke. Diabetes is the number one cause of chronic kidney disease and neuropathies. Diabetes is not just about high blood sugar, but it also leads to high cholesterol levels.
Similarly, hyperlipidemia or high cholesterol may not produce any symptoms at all. However, it considerably increases the risk of atherosclerosis. Thus, high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
Hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, or other health issues are all caused by wrong lifestyle choices over the long run. Among the top two causes of these conditions are wrong dietary choices and a sedentary lifestyle. High fat and salt consumption, increased intake of fast-absorbing carbs, and insufficient physical activities are the reasons behind these conditions.
Preventing High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol, Diabetes
Two ways to prevent metabolic disorders are dietary corrections and regular exercise. A study published in the journal The Lancet in 2017 found that almost 11 million deaths globally are directly due to wrong nutritional practices.
Further, dietary corrections can prevent hundreds of millions of cases of various diseases. Some of the leading causes of ill health are high salt intake, high fat consumption, low consumption of dietary fiber, fruits, and vegetables.
Thus, controlling total calorie intake, sharply cutting down on salt, eating healthy fats, and reducing intake of fast-absorbing carbs may help control all of the above problems. Not only that, these measures alone are enough to reduce the risk of some cancers like colon cancer considerably.
When it comes to exercise, 150 minutes of exercise a week is a bare minimum. However, 300 minutes a week may be perfect. One should do moderate-intensity exercise like brisk walking, jogging, playing various sports, swimming, to name a few.
These two measures, if implemented correctly, can add several years to the life of any individual.
However, it is worth knowing that diseases are sometimes unpreventable. For example, some people develop essential hypertension due to genetics. Similarly, familial hypercholesteremia is not rare.
Thus, additionally, one should pay particular attention to regular screening. It is especially vital for men older than 40 years of age. Screening for common disease conditions is necessary even if a person feels absolutely well. Screening helps identify the problem in its early stages.
Mild hypertension, high cholesterol, or diabetes can be managed through lifestyle changes, dietary changes, exercise, and the use of supplements. However, advanced diseases often require life-long drug therapy.
Further, if a person is living with these conditions, there are still chances of reversing these disorders without medications. So, lifestyle changes like diet, exercise, and supplements should be part of managing even advanced diseases. Once the benefit of lifestyle changes is felt, one may titrate the dosage of medical drugs.
To conclude, medications are good, but many non-infectious diseases are well managed through lifestyle interventions, the use of non-pharmacological means, and supplements. Thus, early screening and getting expert advice may go a long way in increasing the person’s lifespan and may help reduce dependency on drug therapy.