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How To Avoid America’s Top 5 Causes of Death

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) list of top causes of death not only consists of well known killers – but also hasn’t changed much over the years. What is more, some simple lifestyle practices will go a long way in preventing, or at least delaying, the onset of many of the health issues that lead to death. Read on to learn what health experts say about preventing the risks:

1. Heart Disease
According to the CDC, about 600,000 people in the United States die of heart disease each year. More than half of these deaths, which occur in both men and women, are due to coronary heart disease (CHD), a condition in which a waxy substance called plaque (or cholesterol plaque) builds up inside the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply oxygen to the heart. Over time, CHD can cause a heart attack or heart failure.

Health Risk Prevention: According to Sameer Sayeed, MD, a cardiologist practicing at Columbia Doctors of Somers, New York, a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, two oily fish meals per week, and limited fatty foods such as red meat, along with moderate exercise for at least a half hour three times weekly, will go a long way in preventing heart disease. Most important, though, says Dr. Sayeed, is seeing your doctor regularly. “Lots of people are reluctant to go to the doctor,” he says. “But seeing your doctor every six months can help to detect problems that may contribute to heart disease. Things like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol can be caught very early and corrected with lifestyle changes and medications.”

What You May Not Know: Do you think you’re towing the line by consuming only one burger a week? You may still be eating too much red meat for optimal heart health, according to Dr. Sayeed, who says that red meat – including beef, lamb and pork – should be eaten no more than once a month. “These meats are richer in fat and cholesterol and elevate the LDL or “bad” cholesterol more than chicken or fish,” says Dr. Sayeed, who gives the green light to game meats like venison or elk, because these red meats have a lower fat content.

2. Malignant Neoplasms (Cancer)
Number two on the CDC death list is cancer, which accounts for more than 560,000 deaths in the United States each year. According to the American Cancer Society, the most common killers are lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers.

Health Risk Prevention: Cancer is most common in those age 55 and older, and there’s nothing you can do to slow down the passage of time. But there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of developing cancer, says Karen Basen-Engquist, PhD, MPH, Professor of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “Almost half of cancer deaths could be prevented by eliminating tobacco use,” she claims. “Other important recommendations are to keep your weight down by eating in moderation with plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grain foods and a limited intake of red and processed meats. Being obese increases your risk of cancers, especially colorectal cancers and post menopausal breast cancers,” she adds.

Two other cancer prevention tips from Dr. Basen-Engquist: Exercise at least 30 minutes, five times a week, and protect yourself and your children from the sun by spending limited time in direct sunlight and wearing protective clothing and hats as well as sunscreen when you’re outdoors.

What You May Not Know: According to the President’s Cancer Panel, the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been underestimated. With nearly 80,000 chemicals on the U.S. market, many of which are understudied in terms of carcinogenic potential, not to mention unregulated, daily exposure to environmental hazards in food, water and air is inevitable. Because children are more susceptible to damage from environmental carcinogens than adults, the Cancer Panel recommends that parents filter tap water and choose foods, household and yard products, and toys that minimize exposure to toxins (check out the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Household Products Database at www.householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov). It’s important to be aware, too, that certain medical tests, such as CT scans, expose you to potentially cancer causing radiation. You should always ask your doctor about the necessity of such tests.

3. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
An irreversible and progressive lung disease that prevents oxygen from reaching all the airways in the lungs, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is responsible for almost 140,000 U.S. deaths each year. And even though the annual death rate due to COPD is lower than that of both breast and prostate cancer, a woman of 30 or a man of 30 are more likely to develop COPD than they are to develop breast cancer or prostate cancer, respectively.

Health Risk Prevention: “The best way to prevent COPD is to avoid smoking and second-hand smoke,” says Michael P. Zimring, MD, an internal medicine physician who practices at MD Mercy Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Also important, he adds, is avoidance of workplace exposure to dust, asbestos and other pollutants.

What You May Not Know: Research has linked asthma, a reversible form of lung disease, with the development of COPD. In fact, a recent Australian study found that more than 40 percent of adults who had severe childhood asthma went on to develop COPD by the age of 50, a much higher risk than those without asthma have. The message? “If you have asthma, make sure you’re getting good medical care and taking your medications regularly to prevent lung damage,” says Dr. Zimring.

4. Stroke
Cerebrovascular disease (stroke) fells about 130,000 people in the United States yearly. A stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted or reduced. Strokes can occur when an artery to your brain is blocked (often caused by the same plaque deposits that cause heart disease) or by a leaking or ruptured blood vessel (often caused by high blood pressure). Although anyone can have a stroke, African American, Hispanic and Asian populations are more likely to experience one.

Health Risk Prevention: Moshe Lewis, MD, a California physician who co-hosts the radio show Late Night Health, says that many of the same things that help to prevent heart disease will help to prevent stroke. “It’s especially important to include more Omega-3s in the diet, and to avoid fat, especially in fast foods. You want to eat lots of fruits and veggies as well as salmon and other fatty fish. The exercise piece is very important, too. Try to find what works for you, whether walking, Zumba, or whatever, and stick with it.” Dr. Lewis also stresses the importance of knowing your numbers, or having regular blood pressure checks to make sure your blood pressure is healthy.

What You May Not Know: Alternative medicine approaches have shown to be useful in helping prevent both heart disease and stroke, according to Max Kalkstein, New York Licensed Acupuncturist and senior faculty member at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. “Acupuncture, Qi Gong, and Chinese Herbal Medicine can all contribute to heart health in conjunction with healthy diet and lifestyle choices,” says Kalkstein. “Acupuncture can support healthy blood circulation, blood pressure, and arterial health, as well as reducing stress in the body, all of which are critical for heart health.

Qi Gong is a gentle exercise that is suitable for young and old and that can be practiced with any level of fitness.” As for Chinese Medicine, says Kalkstein, herbal treatments are customized for each patient, addressing root causes and symptoms either that the person currently has or is likely to have in the future based upon current health. If you’re interested in Chinese Medicine, Kalkstein recommends consulting a licensed acupuncturist, certified in Oriental Medicine or Chinese Herbal Medicine by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), as well as consulting a physician regarding any medical conditions you may have.

5. Accidents (Unintentional Injuries)
Accidents are responsible for more than 100,000 deaths in the Unites States every year. According to the National Safety Council, automobile, motorcycle and boating accidents, as well as falls, drownings and fires top the list of accidents causing death.

Health Risk Prevention: Accidents are, well, accidental. But there are many things you can do to lessen your chances of having one. Paying attention to the road rather than your cell phone is a big one. Wearing helmets appropriately, teaching your children how to swim and using smoke alarms as well as having a fire evacuation plan will go a long way in keeping your family safe.

What You May Not Know: Thousands of people die each year from health-associated infections, such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), according to Karen Curtiss, author of Safe and Sound in the Hospital, and Founder of CampaignZero, Families for Patient Safety. “Handwashing is the number one way to prevent superbug infections,” says Curtiss. “And half of the time, professional caregivers don’t wash their hands before touching you.” Protect yourself from this accident waiting to happen by gently but firmly requesting your health care providers to wash their hands, she adds.

By Linda Hepler, BSN, RN