pressure, nearly twice as often as whites. “Blacks also develop high blood pressure at younger ages than whites and suffer more damage to their organs as a result of the disease.”
In today’s competitive environment, a number of socioeconomic factors such as career pressure, unemployment or underemployment, substandard living conditions, racism, and other stress-related conditions also affect blood pressure. How stress contributes to hypertension and heart disease is not known, but the association is quite clear. Stress stimulators often trigger the development of calcification, which causes injury to the cells. The accumulated calcium becomes a marker for atherosclerosis, a thickening and hardening of artery walls that eventually blocks the arteries.
The culture of eating is a particularly egregious contributor to cardiovascular disease. Fried and starchy foods, heavy salt intake, whole dairy, saturated fats, and high cholesterol meals—staples of traditional African American cuisine—can be natural causes of atherosclerosis. Over time, the accumulation of hard-to-process food by-products creates a blockage in the vessels that eventually compromises the arterial walls. Americans’ ever-expanding waistlines are another contributor, though thin doesn’t automatically mean healthy. Lisa Jubilee, nutritionist and co-founder of Living Proof, a nutrition and fitness center in New York City says, “We’re observing the phenomenon of the skinny-fat person who looks great dressed up and doesn’t weigh much but has substantial fat deposits stored in their midsection, causing an apple shape.” The abdominal fat causes heart disease by pressing into the internal organs and decreasing the oxygen supply to various parts of the body.
The prevalence of these risk factors in some communities has led researchers and genetic scientists to explore the existence of intrinsic biological determinants or a human genome that makes certain groups of people more naturally susceptible to certain chronic illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes.
In the meantime, Leggett suggests individuals concentrate on risk management and understanding how certain conditions impact health. “For instance, 80% of diabetics die of heart attacks; and obesity is the No. 1 cause of type 2 diabetes in our country. “If you’ve got any of those risk factors, you need to be vigilant about controlling each of the problems independently,” insists Leggett. “That’s what will lower your risk.”
For more information on risk factors, log on to blackenterprise.com.
Know the signs
The body sends a number of signals to let you know it’s in trouble. One of the most common symptoms of heart disease is a transient ischemic attack, or mini-stroke. “This occurs when the blood vessels in the brain develop an ulcer caused by high cholesterol. Plaque forms around the crater, which eventually breaks off and makes its way through the bloodstream toward the brain,” explains Donna Mendes, M.D., chief of vascular surgery at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City, clinical professor of surgery at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, and the first African American female to become board certified in the specialty of peripheral vascular surgery. “The impacted portion of the brain will suddenly experience decreased blood flow, resulting in a TIA.” The part of the body