Cardiovascular Disease & Men’s Health

In June, we celebrate Men’s Health Awareness Month. This tradition began in 1994 in coordination with Father’s Day to increase awareness of men’s health issues. Three important and closely related issues which directly affect men are cardiovascular health, nutrition, and obesity. Cardiovascular disease is a broad term that describes diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels which can affect the heart’s ability to function properly. The most common form of cardiovascular disease is atherosclerosis, which results in clogging or narrowing of your blood vessels. This can cause high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

The causes of cardiovascular disease are multifactorial. Major risk factors include high cholesterol, diabetes, poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking, and excessive alcohol use. Many of these risk factors center around weight and obesity.

As a surgeon, I rarely encounter a patient who is not on medicine for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. Both patients and friends frequently confide that they are trying to maintain a healthy weight by changing their diet or joining the gym. Many patients joke with me, “Doc, can you shave off a few pounds from my belly during the surgery?” Weight and health are a constant on everyone’s minds, and we all tend to feel guilty about it.

But the truth is that behavioral factors are just one part of the problem. We now know that genetics and environmental factors play a significant role in contributing to weight as well. As a society, we have many elements working against us—sedentary lifestyle, highly processed foods, demanding work schedules, poor sleep, and stress, just to name a few. And as a society, we have become overweight. About 2 in 3 adults in the U.S. are now overweight, with 1 in 3 clinically obese. With this comes weight-related medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and sleep apnea. Even though obesity was designated as a disease by the National Institutes of Health in 1998, we are still fighting the stereotypes and stigma that keep patients from seeking counseling and treatment.

Why is this important? Statistics from the American Heart Association report that 39 million American men (or 1 in 3 men) suffer from cardiovascular disease and that every year 1 in 4 men will die of cardiovascular disease. That is more than cancer and diabetes combined. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men. It is also a major cause of disability and decreases the quality of life for millions.

The first step in preventing cardiovascular disease is a healthy diet and exercise. Eat whole grains and heart-healthy foods such as wheat, oats, and brown rice. Have 5 to 6 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Limit salt and fat intake by using less oil, changing to low-fat dairy, and avoiding cookies and soda. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day for 5 days of the week. These are the recommendations for all individuals in addition to being the cornerstone of any weight-loss program.

Often, however, traditional diet and exercise are not enough to shed and keep off the weight. This is especially true for the large percentage of our adult population that is overweight or obese. Many patients who come to see me are frustrated from having tried to lose weight on their own for years, going through numerous weight-loss programs and medications, and having lost and regained weight multiple times.

When traditional methods are unsuccessful, weight loss surgery can be a very effective tool to treat obesity. There are several types of surgery performed today in the U.S. They work by reducing the size of the stomach or bypassing a portion of the intestine to decrease calorie absorption. Surgery can be intimidating, but numerous research studies have shown the safety and benefits of weight loss surgery. Not everyone is a good candidate for surgery, but if one has struggled with weight in the past, weight loss surgery can be life changing.

The goal of weight loss surgery is not just cosmetic. What we find is that with weight loss, obesity-related medical issues also improve. That includes high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol—the major risk factors contributing to cardiovascular disease.

Healthier men live longer, happier lives.

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Diane Kwan, MD, FACS is a Board Certified General Surgeon with Fellowship training in Minimally Invasive, Robotic and Bariatric Surgery. She practices at West Coast Surgical Associates & 680 Bariatrics. At 680 Bariatrics, our goal is to offer care that is multidisciplinary, comprehensive, and above all, compassionate. For more information, please call (925) 933-0984 or visit wcsurgeons.com and 680bariatrics.com.