Research in the field of asthma has found anecdotal evidence that people with severe asthma and frequent corticosteroid use are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. While this news may seem scary it is not time to panic or stop any lifesaving asthma medications. What is important is to mitigate your risk by controlling the other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
These are a few steps you may want to take to insure your health for the long run:
Eat a Mediterranean diet
According to the Mayo Clinic the Mediterranean diet is a wonderful choice for preventing heart disease. This healthy eating plan includes eating the majority of your calories from plant based foods. Unhealthy fats like butter or margarine should be replaced with healthy fats like olive oil. Protein sources should be included from lean meats, fish and nuts. The Mediterranean diet is also good for reducing overall inflammation which may even help control some allergy and asthma symptoms.
Being overweight is one of the main changeable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. If you are overweight loosing even 10% of your current weight could improve your overall health. For someone who weighs 200 pounds that is just 20 pounds. Following the Mediterranean diet will help aid weight loss along with counting calories and exercise. Weight loss is also shown to improve asthma control in patients who are overweight.
Working out helps prevent cardiovascular disease in many ways. First, exercise is a huge stress relief. Stress kills so an outlet for those high tension days is key in helping prevent cardiovascular disease. Exercise also helps in weight loss. As we discussed above, weight loss also helps to take the stress off of your heart. In addition to the cardiovascular benefits, exercise can also help promote good asthma control. As little as 30 minutes of exercise per day can provide significant benefits. Be sure to get your doctor’s permission before starting any new exercise program and have your rescue inhaler handy, especially if you have exercise induced asthma.
Know your numbers.
There are three sets of numbers that you need to know to be able to assess your overall cardiovascular health. Those numbers are blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Ideally your blood pressure should be at or below 120/80. High blood pressure puts added strain on your entire cardiovascular system. A fasting blood sugar should range between 70-99 mg/dl. If yours is higher than 99 mg/dl it could indicate pre-diabetes or diabetes, both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol is a measure of the fats in your blood. Total cholesterol should be at or below 200 mg/dl. Of this total the LDL (low density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol) should be less than 70 mg/dl and HDL (high density lipoprotein or healthy fats) should be 60 mg/dl or above and triglycerides should be below 150 mg/dl. If you do not already know these numbers than it may be time to make a wellness appointment with your physician to have these labs checked.
One of the worst things you can do for your asthma and cardiovascular system is to smoke. If you are having a hard time quitting talk with your physician. There are newer medications and smoking cessation programs that might help you to succeed this time.
While it may be scary to hear about an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in asthmatics there are several things you can do to limit the risk to your health. Talk with your physician about the things we have discussed today and develop a plan tailored to your own health. You will be glad you did.
Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.