Tomorrow is World Heart Day. The World Heart Federation has put very important messages on its website. It needs to be stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic has added new twists to heart health. A diseased heart is recognized as one of the warnings signs of chances of suffering severe complications of COVID-19.
The World Heart Federation (WHF) notes that as the world struggles to fight COVID-19, there is increased awareness of the importance of the our heart and our cherished ones.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the world’s number one killer, resulting in 18.6 million deaths a year even without COVID-19. The addition of COVID-19 to the mix makes the situation more dire. CVD has many causes, including smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, air pollution, and less common conditions such as Chagas disease and cardiac amyloidosis.
There are 520 million people living with CVD and as expected the effect of COVID-19 has been dire- with increased risk of developing the complications of the disease. Any CVD increases the risk of complications of effects of COVID-19 and COVID-19 increases the risk of severity of an existing CVD. Furthermore many persons with CVDs are afraid to attend routine and emergency appointments with social effects of isolation from friends and family.
On this year’s World Heart Day, the WHF is asking the world to “Use Heart to Connect”.
The WHF notes that current healthcare crisis has highlighted an urgent need to find different and innovative ways to connect people to heart health, particularly in lower resource areas and communities.
It is important to stress that 2021 mark’s the first year of the decade of action of the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) under the “Setting goals for the decade ahead”. Digital Health is one of the goals of the FIP in the decade under review.The FIP commits itself to support its members worldwide in prioritizing and implementing the 21-point Development Goals.
Incidentally the WHF notes that harnessing the power of digital health to improve awareness, prevention and management of CVD globally is a goal for Word Heart Day 2021. Telehealth has a huge role to play as we continue to “Use Heart To Beat CVD”.
Using The Heart To Connect is about using knowledge, compassion and influence to make sure yourself, loved loved ones and the entire community have the best chance to live heart-healthy lives. It is about using the power of digital technology to connect every heart, everywhere.
The WHF has three pillars in driving this agenda: The first is equity. Disconnected hearts are at greater risk of heart disease and stroke due to lack of access to CVD prevention, treatment and control – yet half the world’s population does not have access to internet connectivity. In this sense Ghana seems to have an advantage. What is needed is harnessing the available technology for improved health care on such occasions as World Heart Day. In the third quarter of 2020, 99 percent of internet users in Ghana aged 16 to 64 years owned a mobile of any type. 98.7 percent had smartphones, while another 5.7 percent owned non-smartphone mobile phones.
The WHF adds that technology and data will help us bridge the gap and do it fast- every segment of society needs to be encouraged to use digital tools for better prevention, diagnosis and care of heart-related conditions.Not all hearts are equal, but digital health can help to redress the balance.
The second pillar is Prevention. Look after your heart by eating a healthy diet, saying no to tobacco and getting plenty of exercise. Digital tools, like phone apps and wearables, can really help you to get motivated and stay on track.If you have an underlying health condition, such as heart disease, heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity, do not let COVID-19 stop you from attending your regular check-ups. And never avoid calling the emergency services if you need to.
At this point I will like to make a special emphasis on diet. Evidence based on epidemiological studies suggests that flavonoid-rich diets high in fruits and/or vegetables reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Studies report reduced cardiovascular risk and events associated with the consumption of foods rich in flavonoids.
Several studies have demonstrated that consumption of cocoa and its products decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders. It positively affects the immune and nervous systems, prevents the risk of cancer, and shows systemic and intestinal anti-inflammatory activities. Cocoa phytochemical constituents, particularly polyphenols, are strongly associated with health-promoting benefits. Cocoa polyphenols have effective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Flavanol-rich cocoa and cocoa derivatives increase nitric oxide
(NO) synthesis, augment flow-mediated dilation (FMD) and enhance microcirculation, induce vasodilation and reduce blood pressure, attenuate platelet aggregation (blood-thinning) and improve endothelial and vascular function. Cocoa flavanols regulate lipid synthesis and degradation and glucose homeostasis and reduce the risk of obesity-induced metabolic disorders.
Cocoa flavanols also exert neuroprotective properties and improve cognition, as they can cross the blood–brain barrier (BBB) into the brain. Cocoa flavanols are reported to be anti-infectives (anti-bacterial and anti-viral). Dietary polyphenols interact bidirectionally with the gut microbiota and selectively promote or inhibit microbial growth and proliferation with effects of improved health and well being including heart health (Sorrenti et al. Cocoa Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota Interplay: Bioavailability, Prebiotic Effect, and Impact on Human Health . Nutrients2020, 12, 1908; doi:10.3390/nu12071908).
Furthermore, with the advances in molecular biology techniques, the association between changes in the gut microbiota and human diseases or disorders is becoming more evident. These health issues include aging, oxidative stress, blood pressure and atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, and different other central nervous system disorders. Cocoa has been shown to affect the same human disorders that are linked to gut microbiota. These findings indicate that flavanol-rich exerts its effect by altering the gut microbiota ((Nabil Hayek, Cocoa, Gut Microbiota and Human Health. www.frontiersin.org. February 2013 | Volume 4 | Article 11. Tremaroli et al.Functional interactions between the gut microbiota and host metabolism. 2012.
Nature 489, 242–249).
I believe that if each of us with information on the health benefits of cocoa use the available digital tools to share the health benefits with each other the health burden of the country will come down. The savings generated can be used to improve overall health care and other required development(s) in the country.
The third pillar of the WHF is Community.There are 520 million people globally living with CVD that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in the last year. Due to increased vulnerability to more severe forms of COVID-19, persons with CVDs have been made aware of their vulnerabilities, the risks and the need to shelter in place.The consequences include missing medical appointments, lack of contact with family and friends and reduced physical exercise.
In marking the World Heart Day it needs to be stressed again that digital networks have the power to connect patients with families, friends, other patients, and carers.
DR. EDWARD O. AMPORFUL