Written by Sade Meeks, MS,RD
Heart disease is often thought of as a health condition that strictly affects our older population. However, statistics actually show rates of the disease (and heart attacks!) are increasing amongst young people. Data from a multi-state study in the United States last year showed that out of 28,000 people admitted to the hospital for heart attacks, 30% of the patients were between ages 35-54 (1). Despite the increasing statistics, we are often shocked when someone in their 30’s suffers a heart attack or when a physically active person, like celebrity trainer Bob Harper from the Biggest Loser, suffers a heart attack while training at the gym! As we can clearly see, heart disease does not discriminate.
When discussing risk factors, diabetes, tobacco use, high blood pressure, and cholesterol are known as the “Big Four”; however, these aren’t the only risks. Genetics and family history are also risk factors. For example, someone with a genetic predisposition to high levels of lipoprotein(a) (Lp(a)), are at an increased risk for developing heart disease.
What is Lp(a) you ask?
You may have heard about of how high LDL – “bad cholesterol” and low HDL “good cholesterol” can impact our heart health. However, have you heard about a fat component called Lp(a)?
Lp(a) is a highly atherogenic lipoprotein that is under strong genetic control by the LPA gene locus (2). It’s probably not as familiar because it doesn’t show up on a regular cholesterol screening (you have to ask for it). It might be worth asking your doctor about discovering your own levels as a high reading may increase your risk for heart disease and heart attack, no matter your age. In fact, this is what contributed to Bob Harper’s heart attack in 2017. Though this lipoprotein is strongly controlled by genetics, research reveals preventative measures can be taken to reduce it.
One research study involving a 4 week plant-based diet intervention, showed a 15% reduction in Lp(a)– along with reductions in total cholesterol and LDL among participants (3). The details of this plant-based diet aren’t revealed in the study, but one explanation is the high fiber intake associated with plant based diets. Fiber has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, thus promoting heart health. More specifically, soluble fibers bind to bile acids, which are made from cholesterol, and prevent them from being reabsorbed by the body. This ultimately helps reduce the body’s total cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends replacing high-calorie foods with fruits and vegetables and choosing fiber-rich whole grains for most grain servings.
One easy way you can get some quality fiber into your diet is with Barley+ which has 3 special types; soluble fiber, insoluble fiber and beneficial resistant starch. These Barley+ Muesli Bliss Ball recipe is one great way you can start your day as it includes whole grains and rich sources of fiber from Barley+ and berries.
- American Heart Association News. Heart attacks are becoming more common in younger people, especially women. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/11/12/heart-attacks-are-becoming-more-common-in-younger-people-especially-women
- Kronenberg F. (2016). Human Genetics and the Causal Role of Lipoprotein(a) for Various Diseases. Cardiovascular drugs and therapy, 30(1), 87-100. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4789197/
- Rami S Najjar, Frank A Laws, Carolyn E Moore, and Baxter D Montgomery . Consumption of a Defined Plant Based Diet Reduces Lp(a) and Other Atherogenic Lipoproteins and Particles in Four Weeks Retrieved from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/circ.136.suppl_1.15119