Most of us have heard that we should eat less fat and ghee, avoid meat, skip the junk food, pass on the soft drinks, and lace up our running shoes regularly to keep our hearts strong, bodies slim, and our blood sugar regulated. What you may not know is that if you are of South Asiandescent (from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives, orNepal), you have an increased risk of developing heart disease, a big unhealthy gut, andtype 2 diabetes, regardless of your other risk factors. Thats righteven if you are a slim, vegetarian, non-smoker with low cholesterol and average blood pressure, simply being Indian puts you at risk for these conditions.
Kaiser Permanente, a large health maintenance organization (HMO) in the US, found an alarmingly high rate of hospitalization for heart disease among its Indian male patients in Northern Californiaalmost 4 times higher than Caucasian patients and 6 times higher than Chinese patients. This was probably not due to over diagnosis or over treatment, because Kaiser is a conservative HMO that only recommends expensive procedures to the most high-risk cases.
One of the most disconcerting facts is that even the young and seemingly healthy Indians arent immune from having a heart attack or developing diabetes. About one half of Indian men who have a heart attack are 50 years old or younger, and one quarter are 40 or younger.
The numbers are startling and conclusiveIndians are uniquely at risk for serious and potentially deadly chronic conditions. The question is, WHY?
Over the last 15 years, leading institutions like the Stanford South Asian Translational Heart Initiative (Ssathi); the South Asian Heart Center (SAHC) at El Camino Hospital; University of California, San Francisco and Northwestern University, which are participants in the Mediators of Atherosclerosis in South Asians Living in America (MASALA) study; and the Prevention & Awareness for South Asians (PRANA) program at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, have begun to unearth unique South Asian risk factors that may have genetic underpinnings. For example, when compared to Caucasians, South Asians more often have a specific protein mutation that is associated with insulin resistance. In addition, their risk of heart disease at any cholesterol level is twice that of other ethnicities. Multi-disciplinary research has uncovered additional genetic and lifestyle-related risk factors that are particularly relevant in the South Asian population, including:
These five risk factors are potent players in the South Asian health crisis. Even without any of the traditional risk factors, high levels of LP(a), homocysteine, or hs-CRP can increase your heart disease risk by a factor of two. Many South Asians have elevated LP(a) and homocysteine, which increases their risk of heart disease by a factor of 30! These factors also seem to intensify the dangers of the traditional cardiac risk factors, like having low HDL or high blood pressure.
In short, South Asians have a hereditary susceptibility to heart disease and diabetes. That genetic predisposition can interact with and amplify common lifestyle risk factors, like being physically inactive and eating an inflammatory diet, putting South Asians at a dangerously high risk.
If you are South Asian, dont feel discouraged!
The good news is that most of these risk factors can be effectively managed with nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, adequate sleep, and medical interventions when necessary. Personally, I was told fourteen years ago that I needed open-heart surgery. Instead of going under the knife, I chose to manage my serious cardiac risk using NUTRITION, regular moderate exercise, and meditation. I have been healthy ever since.
Your metabolism is unique. Understand it! The first step towards nutritional health is to understand your metabolic risk factors, which you can find out through a simple blood draw.
These results will help determine the nutritional regimen you need to follow to lower your risk. There is increasing evidence that mapping/personalizing your nutrition to your metabolic markers is key to counteracting these chronic conditions in Indians and South Asians. Despite your genetic susceptibility, your health can still benefit dramatically from lifestyle changes.
You are not what you eat – Youare what your body does with what you eat. In the blog posts to come, well tell you more about these chronic conditions and also explain what you should and shouldnt be eating to optimize your health, based on your personal risk factors. After all, we believe that your diet is one of the most powerful tools available to you for decreasing your risk of these conditions. You may not be able to control your genes, but you can control your food.
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