A heart attack happens when a blockage in your coronary artery causes part of your heart muscle to be starved of blood and oxygen – this can act as a catalyst for the deadly event.
Luckily, as heart attack risk is strongly tied to unhealthy lifestyle decisions, there are steps you can take to avert your risk of developing the deadly complication.
Diet plays a decisive role in reducing your risk, and it may come as a surprise to hear that a popular treat may help to keep the risk at bay.
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Two studies published in the journals Age and the British Journal of Nutrition suggest that drinking hot chocolate may offer significant protection against having a heart attack.
The first study found that a mug of hot chocolate a day could slash the risk of a heart attack in the next 10 years by 31 percent.
Plant-based nutrients called cocoa flavanols found in chocolate were found to hold the key, improve the function of the heart as age causes arteries to stiffen.
The study of 42 men found flavanols brought heart-healthy benefits to those under 35 and also those aged 50-80.
It found that vasodilation, the widening of blood vessels, was significantly improved in both age groups that consumed flavanols over the course of the study.
Vasodilation allows the blood vessels to become more open, which leads to an increase in blood flow through your blood vessels as well as a decrease in blood pressure.
This is a crucial mechanism that reduces the risk of cardiovascular complications such as heart disease.
The younger group’s vasodilation improved by 33 percent, while the older group’s improved by 32 percent, and in the older age group, a significant decrease in systolic blood pressure was also observed.
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Blood pressure is measured with two numbers – systolic pressure and diastolic pressure, and diastolic pressure.
Systolic blood pressure indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats and diastolic blood pressure indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats, according to the American Heart Association.
The study findings, that cocoa flavanols lead to a pronounced reduction in systolic blood pressure, is significant in light of the fact that systolic blood pressure is regarded as more important than diastolic blood pressure because it gives the best idea of your risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
The second study into healthy men and women aged 35-60 found their risk of cardiovascular disease cut by 22 percent after consuming a flavanol drink twice a day for four weeks.
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It also found reduced levels of blood pressure and cholesterol – a waxy substance found in the blood that can lead to a hike in heart attack risk.
The two studies were both carried out by the EU-funded Flaviola Research Consortium, and, commenting on the findings, Flaviola director Professor Malte Kelm, from the University Hospital Dusseldorf, said: “With the world population getting older, the incidence of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and stroke will only increase.
“It is therefore pivotal that we understand the positive impact diet can have on cardiovascular disease risk. As part of this, we want to know what role flavanol-containing foods could play in maintaining the health of the heart and blood vessels.
“Our results indicate flavanols may have preventive potential for CVD.”
In addition to eating certain foods, regular exercise can also reduce your heart attack risk.
What are the symptoms of having a heart attack?
- Chest pain – a sensation of pressure, tightness or squeezing in the centre of your chest
- Pain in other parts of the body – it can feel as if the pain is travelling from your chest to your arms (usually the left arm is affected, but it can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back and abdomen
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
- An overwhelming sense of anxiety (similar to having a panic attack)
- Coughing or wheezing
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