6 surprising facts about heart disease, cancer, and diabetes

Boston Market has removed the salt shakers from the tables in their restaurants nationwide as seen at their Alexandria, Va., restaurant.
April 8, 2014 1:41:26 AM PDT
If you're like most Americans, chances are your New Year's resolutions fell by the wayside sometime in mid-January. But what better time to pick them up again than World Health Day (April 7)? To commemorate the day and hopefully get you thinking about ways to boost your own health, we've rounded up surprising facts about some of the most prevalent diseases in the U.S., as well as ways to protect against them. Read on and remember, it's never too late to start a healthy lifestyle!

HEART DISEASE

1. Sugar can ruin a lot more than your appetite.

Turns out salt isn't the only enemy of the cardiovascular system. "Excess sugar adheres to proteins in your blood, causing them to be thick or sticky," explains Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., coauthor of The Great Cholesterol Myth, in Family Circle Magazine. This leads to plaque buildup and other serious risks for heart attack.

It's pretty difficult to cut out sugar completely, but you can start by skipping it in coffee or tea, choosing non-sugary breakfasts, avoiding soda and juice, and limiting bread, pasta and rice. There's also tons of hidden sugar in innocuous-sounding foods like ketchup and granola, so make sure to check nutrition labels.

2. Getting a flu shot could greatly reduce your risk.

When you have the flu, there might be more dangers than you think: Acute respiratory infection, which many develop with the flu, increases the risk of heart disease. Protecting yourself against the infection could cut this risk by half.

For more interesting facts, read the American Heart Association's top 10 myths about heart disease.


CANCER

3. Cancer isn't considered one disease, but rather a set of diseases.

Cancer is characterized by out-of-control cell growth. When masses of tissue (tumors) grow too big, they interfere with the body's systems and cause a variety of issues. The National Cancer Institute has identified more than 100 different types of cancer.

4. If you're going through chemotherapy, you should probably avoid your favorite foods.

The radiation treatment can mess with your taste buds, changing the taste of your food and creating unpleasant associations. Rebekah Latour, a 24-year-old Duke student, had leukemia when she was younger and always had to chew on ice chips to stay hydrated. Now the idea of ice in her drinks makes her nauseous.

To reduce your risk of cancer, be sure to maintain a healthy body weight with a clean diet and regular exercise. Limit alcohol, and quit smoking already. It's not cool anymore, and you'll save around $5,000 a year.

Get more facts about cancer from the American Cancer Society.


DIABETES

5. Type 2 diabetes, usually brought on by obesity, is now being diagnosed in children as young as six.

A recent study found that severe obesity in children is on the rise in the U.S., which brings with it an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other serious health issues. And the U.S. isn't alone — the World Health Organization has long warned that obesity is a growing global epidemic.

Type 1 diabetes (also known as juvenile diabetes) is more of a mystery. The exact cause of Type 1 is unknown, though a number of theories exist. With Type 1, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy pancreatic cells which produce insulin (the hormone that helps the body absorb energy from food).

6. Many symptoms of diabetes to watch for are fluid-related.

These include having to use the bathroom more than usual, unquenchable thirst, and dehydration. If you're drinking tons of water but still feeling thirsty, cover your bases by seeing a doctor.

Read more facts about diabetes from WHO and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.


Preventative measures for many diseases can be distilled into a few points, which you probably already know: Eat healthy foods in moderate portions, get some exercise at least five days a week, and cut out stuff you know is bad for you, like tobacco, any drugs, and excessive alcohol (you're getting too old to take shots anyway). Keep up healthy habits and you may be on your way to celebrating your 100th birthday.

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