Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in Alabama.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has made nearly everyone supremely conscious of their health. Despite the harmful health effects of COVID, heart disease continues to be the most lethal affliction for the health of Alabamians, with cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease trailing behind.

According to Dr. Wes Stubblefield, with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), this has been the leading cause of death for Alabamians for over a century. However, Alabama’s heart disease rate is not amongst the highest in the nation.  

“Alabama is sort of in the middle in terms of coronary disease deaths per 100,000,” Stubblefield said. 

Heart disease broadly refers to a large spectrum of diseases that affect the heart’s function, usually by blocking or damaging the major blood vessels that supply the heart. Rare cases of congenital heart disease are also possible. 

“The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease, which is what leads to heart attack, but there are different types of heart disease," said Stubblefield. "For example, you can have coronary disease, which is where you get plaque in the blood vessels that feed the heart itself. But you can also have an irregular heart rate or rhythm. You can have heart failure. You can have disease of your heart valves. You can have disease of the heart muscle itself or the lining around the heart.”  

As strange as it may seem, studies have shown a direct correlation between dental health and heart health. Maintaining good dental hygiene is an integral aspect of maintaining a healthy heart.

“When you get your teeth cleaned, it releases bacteria into your body through the bloodstream," said Stubblefield. "That’s just going to happen when you manipulate a tissue. Those bacteria that are in your mouth, if you have poor oral hygiene, can actually cause infections of the heart valve. Poor oral health has been linked to infections in the heart.”

While there are verified cases of heart disease in people who have taken the COVID vaccine, Stubblefield maintains that they are rare and mostly temporary.

“In younger males, there is an association between getting the COVID vaccine and a slightly increased risk of myocarditis and pericarditis, or inflammation around the heart,” Stubblefield said. “The good thing is that the people that have gotten this, in excess of something like 50 cases per million, so we’re still talking about a relatively small number, but of the people that they’ve been able to follow that have had this complication of the vaccine, almost all of them recover completely, and usually pretty quickly.

"At this point, the slightly increased risk of myocarditis related to the vaccine has so far been mild, and it’s been something that we’re just watching.“

Diet plays a pivotal role in heart health. Stubblefield expressed the importance of maintaining a healthy weight by avoiding inflammatory foods and ingesting sufficient healthy fats.

“The thing that you want to remember is that it’s complicated," said Stubblefield. "All of us have different genes, and there are people that are born with genes that make them have higher cholesterol at baseline than other people. Cholesterol is very important because that is the leading cause of the plaque buildup in the arteries. Things that have been associated with poor heart health have been things like eating a diet high in saturated fats. Those are things like French fries, butter, and fried foods.  Those are inflammatory fats. There are some types of fats that are called anti-inflammatory fats, and those would be things that are in what we call the Mediterranean diet, things that come from fish and olives, things like that. You want to avoid an inflammatory diet.”

Stubblefield explained that there are several ways of preventing heart disease. Maintaining consistent weight, regular exercise, avoiding smoking, and eating a diet rich in healthy fats are all methods of preventing heart disease. Stubblefield stressed that smoking was the leading cause of poor heart health. 

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email craig.monger@1819News.com.