1.30 Introduction to Heart Disease Risk Factors

In this HeartStrong.com video/article, we will talk about the main risk factors for atherosclerosis which leads to heart disease, cerebrovascular disease causing stroke, some aneurysms such as abdominal aortic aneurysms and peripheral arterial disease.

Understanding these risk factors is crucial to achieving optimal heart health. As you progress through the HeartStrong.com program, we will see how these risk factors will improve and quite often completely disappear!


Here are the 5 main risk factors for heart disease:

1. Hypertension (high blood pressure)

2. Diabetes mellitus

3. High cholesterol

4. Tobacco use

5. Genetics (only plays a small role as we will see)

Every person is born with healthy arteries. Over time, factors from our diet and lifestyle can damage the lining of the arteries called the “endothelium.” When the endothelium is injured, it becomes inflamed and eventually cholesterol sticks in the wall of the arteries. The process by which this cholesterol plaque builds up is called “atherosclerosis.”

Look at these 5 risk factors. We can directly prevent 4 of the 5 with lifestyle changes. Genetics are out of our control sort of, but as you will see your lifestyle choices actually do affect if you express genes leading to heart disease. Thus, even if heart disease “runs in the family”, you are not destined to get heart disease if you make the correct lifestyle changes.

Controlling all the risk factors that we can by healthy lifestyle living can essentially prevent atherosclerosis from occurring in any part of your body and even reverse it in many cases. Each of these risk factors will have their own video, but here that are briefly.


Hypertension is present when the pressure inside the arteries is higher than it should be. This puts too much stress by sheer force on the wall of the arteries and the endothelium leading to damage and eventually cholesterol plaque build-up. The high pressure can also lead to aneurysm formation in an artery and even rupture which can be life threatening.

Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus comes in two types: Type I and Type II

Type I diabetes frequently occurs in childhood and is the result of an organ called the pancreas not producing the glucose lowering hormone insulin.

Type II diabetes is the form that is from “insulin resistance.” This is the type that is predominately caused by poor dietary habits, obesity and lack of physical activity.

High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance important for the function of all cells. What many do not realized is that cholesterol is made in your liver. You DO NOT need to eat ANY cholesterol to survive. Having high levels of cholesterol in the blood significantly worsens the atherosclerotic processes increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Cholesterol in the diet is ONLY found in animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs. There is NO cholesterol in any plant product.

Tobacco Use

Smoking tobacco products introduces multiple toxins into the system which has many negative health effects. One of these effects is damage to the endothelial cells. Any damage to the endothelium, as you have learned, can speed up the harmful process of atherosclerosis.


Many people think genetics play a large role in heart disease development. This is actually not the case. Families in which heart disease strikes at a younger age frequently have unhealthy lifestyle habits in common such as diets high in cholesterol and saturated fat, lack of physical activity and the use of tobacco products. It is now known the exact percentage of heart disease that is purely genetic, but estimates say that at least 90% of heart disease is preventable. Many experts think 99% of heart disease is preventable. If this is the case then 1% or less of heart disease would be purely genetic. What is largely unknown is how much strict lifestyle changes including a whole foods plant based diet will lower the risk of people who adopt this eating pattern at a young age along with avoiding toxins like tobacco and staying physically active.

Calculating Your Heart Disease Risk

Throughout the HeartStrong.com program, you will see your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and much more improve. Be sure to calculate your heart disease risk with some of the available tools before you start the program and afterwards. While these calculators are not perfect and do not account for every known variable, they are what we have based on the current available research. These calculators will be summarized soon so you know which one is best.

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