One million Canadians are South Asian. They are amongst a general population at an accelerating risk for heart disease and type II diabetes. However, it is uncommonly known that South Asians are at a much greater risk of heart disease than many other populations. The current popular message conveyed to Canadians is to lower the now cliché bad cholesterol, LDL, and raise the good cholesterol, HDL. Our daily health news headlines promote simple measures such as consuming omega-3 oils to increase our HDL. For South Asians it’s not that simple. Yet they do not know that.
What goes unsaid is that different ethnic populations have a different genetic makeup and that even something like LDL and HDL in our bodies can be drastically dissimilar from one another. The latest research is showing that HDL particles in South Asians are significantly more dysfunctional and LDL is more easily oxidized or ‘rusted’ in their blood, both resulting in increased prevalence of heart disease. Like genetically Irish populations and celiac disease or Black populations and blood disorders, South Asians must be that extra bit more vigilant about their cardiovascular health than the rest of the population because the cards they’ve been dealt put them at a disadvantage in the Western world. It is prudent that this sizeable community be made aware of the increased risk of cardiovascular problems it faces so that South Asian individuals may monitor and minimize their risk.
There are a number of factors to consider when assessing one’s heart health. The most relevant for South Asians are their current nutritional habits and vitamin and mineral supplementation, blood allergies and food sensitivities and the current level of oxidative stress or ‘rusting’ in their blood. For example, it is commonly recommended to reduce Sodium intake as a means to reduce hypertension even though we find in practice that such dietary restrictions alone do not dramatically affect blood pressure numbers in the majority of people. There are however three commonly under-consumed or under-absorbed nutrients: Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium, which are equally important when taken in the right amounts to regulate hypertension and reduce risks of cardiovascular disease. This is even more important to individuals on blood pressure medications or cholesterol medications that may deplete Potassium levels or antioxidant levels in the blood respectively. Even our newly developed maligning of dietary cholesterol and its subsequent medical removal from our diets has not entirely saved those at risk from developing heart disease or from developing other health conditions as a result. In fact, approximately 50% of women who suffer from chest pain have no artery blockages and they have normal cholesterol. The importance of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E cannot be overlooked in these cases. There are safer and more effective alternatives to managing heart health.
As one member of the one million strong South Asian population in Canada I believe it is incredibly important to better understand our health especially in a time when the strength of that health is being continually challenged. We live in a time of constantly conflicting evidence and advice when South Asians in Canada are suffering more than ever before. Consulting a qualified health care practitioner like a naturopathic doctor to prevent or treat heart disease is as equally important now.
Bobby Parmar, ND