Complex Made Simple

Shocking research about heart disease in the UAE and globally

Ahead of World Health Day on September 29th, AMEinfo reveals that over 50% of UAE residents have been affected by heart disease, but their awareness of risks did not translate into action. Emerging research challenges our views about healthy diets

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the UAE Higher consumption of dairy fat may be linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease People who follow a keto diet have a significantly increased risk of developing heart disease

More than half of UAE residents have been affected by heart disease during their lifetime, according to a new study commissioned by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

The survey of over 1000 UAE residents revealed that 55% of respondents had been directly affected by heart disease, either through being diagnosed themselves (12%), having a close friend or family member diagnosed with heart disease (53%), or both.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the UAE, with symptoms in patients often occurring a decade earlier than their counterparts in other developed nations.

78% of respondents understood the risk factors and 77% knew heart disease was preventable. Over 50% were aware that physicians recommend more than 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of exercise a week to help prevent heart disease.

Despite this high level of awareness, 53% reported they have not had their heart health checked for more than 2 years, with 30% saying they had never done so.

Around 22% of residents over the age of 45, the highest risk group surveyed, revealed they never had one heart-related doctor visitation.

For UAE women residents, 35% said they never saw a heart doctor, and 26% had not had a heart checkup for more than two years.

The most common risk factors reported by those surveyed were high blood pressure (46%), stress (45%), cholesterol (44%), and lack of exercise (44%). In addition, obesity and diabetes, conditions closely linked to severe heart disease, are affecting 35% and 30% of those surveyed respectively. 

Two-thirds of all patients with a major heart attack seen at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi in the last 3 years had abnormal cholesterol levels.

High-fat dairy is good for the heart- Research

Higher consumption of dairy fat may be linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, according to new research published in the journal Plos Medicine that suggests choosing full-fat dairy options is no worse for heart health.

An international team of scientists studied the dairy fat consumption of 4,150 60-year-olds in Sweden. The study challenges the view that full-fat dairy products, such as cheese, yogurt, and milk, should be avoided because of their high saturated fat content.

The team followed participants for an average of 16.6 years, recording how many died or had heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular conditions. The researchers undertook a meta-analysis including 17 other studies, involving nearly 43,000 people in the UK, US, and Denmark.

Cardiovascular disease risk was the lowest for participants who had high levels of dairy fatty acids. The researchers also found that higher intakes of dairy fat were not associated with an increased risk of death.

Cheese consumption, which includes vitamin K, has been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

large 2018 study, conducted in 21 mainly low and middle-income countries, similarly found that consumption of dairy products may protect against heart disease and stroke.

KETO is a no-no

The long-term consequences of a ketogenic diet may far outweigh any potential short-term benefits, according to a new review published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Nutrition following analysis more than 100 peer-reviewed studies on keto diets. 

Keto diets, which promote quick weight loss because they restrict carbohydrates and emphasize protein and fats, aim is to push the body into ketosis, which is the state in which the body uses fat for fuel.

Keto diets rely heavily on red meat, fish, nuts, cream, eggs, cheese, oil, and non-starchy vegetables but they avoid fruit, starchy vegetables, whole grains, beans, and lentils.

The published review found that people who follow a keto diet have a significantly increased risk of developing heart disease, LDL cholesterol buildup, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Additionally, for those living with chronic kidney disease, the high amounts of protein consumed on the keto diet can place excess stress on the kidneys and worsen the long-term internal damage of the disease. 

“The foods that are emphasized on a keto diet are the very products that cause colon cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease,” said study co-author Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and an adjunct professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine. “New research also shows that these same foods raise the risk for severe COVID-19.”

A 2018 study published by The Lancet Public Health also found that diets low in carbohydrates and high in animal fat can shorten an individual’s lifespan by up to 4 years. At the time, scientists gathered self-reported data from 15,400 individuals in the US over the course of 25 years and found that participants who avoided carbohydrate consumption and replaced caloric intake with beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and cheese had an increased risk of early death. 

Similarly, the 2018 study researchers suggested a low carbohydrate diet that exchanges carbohydrates for more plant-based fats and proteins instead of animal products, could promote healthy aging in the long term. 

Cardiovascular disease and COVID-19

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a key risk factor for COVID-19. But by itself, CVD is far deadlier, with nearly 400% more deaths each year, compared to COVID.

For context, the deadly pandemic has so far claimed 4.55 million lives in nearly 20 months (from January 2020 to September 13, 2021), according to Johns Hopkins University figures.

CVD kills an average of 17.9 million per year (3.93 times more than COVID), making it the leading cause of deaths globally, according to WHO data.

Dr. Srinivasan Kandasamy, Cardiologist at Zulekha Hospital, points to “fatty plaques” (or atherosclerosis) as the key driver behind CVD.  

“Unhealthy lifestyle ranges from smoking, unhealthy diets, intake of salt-rich food or excess-calorie food, leading to obesity. These are the biggest contributors to increased fatality due to cardiovascular diseases,” said Dr. Kandasamy.

The risk of heart disease increases around the age 45 in men and 55 in women and risks may be greater if one has close family members who have a history of heart disease.