Is Your Food a Risk Factor?

Panuwat Dangsungnoen/

In my last post, I spoke about how coronary artery disease can be considered a food-borne illness. I discussed how the modern Western diet, filled with fried foods, processed foods, meats, oils, and dairy, contributes so much to the development of heart disease. Moreover, there is an abundance of data demonstrating this connection. For me, even though the data is there, I don’t need it to appreciate that the foods we eat are harming us. I see this demonstrated every day I go to work. I care for many people suffering from diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Maybe you do as well. Do you have family or friends living with one or more of these illnesses? They are indeed diseases of lifestyle.

Reflecting on my work as an Emergency Medicine physician, I began thinking about how I evaluate a patient with chest pain. In the Emergency Department, we certainly try to make a diagnosis whenever we can with the resources at our disposal. At a minimum, however, we need to do our best to ensure that no immediate life or limb-threatening process is occurring in a patient, and the questions we ask a patient are often a critical part of our evaluation. 

Getting back to the patient with chest pain, there are several conditions that we need to assess for, including coronary artery disease, which may be causing an acute decrease in blood flow to part of the heart. While interviewing the patient, we ask many questions about their symptoms as well as their risk factors for heart disease. Typical risk factors include diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, and obesity. Then I began to ask myself: why don’t we ask about a  person’s diet? It is clear that what a person eats can either contribute to or protect from heart disease. Perhaps in the future, a person’s diet should be officially added to the list of heart disease risk factors. Moreover, raising the subject of diet may allow us to create awareness and educate our patients on this essential component of health and wellness.