Heart Matters: What is the Leading Cause of Death in the World?

“The greatest wealth is health.” ~ Virgil

Welcome to the second installment of my Heart Matters trilogy of posts!

And to answer the question posed in the title – cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), are the culprit when it comes to global mortality. I’ll be looking a little closer at the issues we face in battling this silent killer.

American Heart Disease-infographic

Our health is something we generally take for granted right up until the point we lose it – for whatever reason. I’ve been guilty of this myself. In my youth I was extremely fit and healthy, there was no reason to think that would ever change.

However, modern living should carry a government health warning!

It’s time to take responsibility for our health. Someone dies from a cardiovascular illness EVERY 42 SECONDS IN THE USA.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease kills more people than cancer, diabetes and prescription drugs combined.

Recent figures from UCLA indicate that more people are dying of obesity than starvation for the first time in human history.

Heart Matters - hamberger and fries

There are a myriad of reasons why this is the case, here are the main causes:

  • Hereditary factors
  • Poor diet
  • Smoking & drinking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Stress
  • Pollution

If heart disease runs in your family the chances are your genes are pre-disposed towards some type of cardiovascular illness. There’s not much you can do about that.

Or is there?

That was certainly the case for my mum, who sadly lost her mother and father to heart disease. For as long as I can remember my mum has always struggled with high blood pressure. Late last year she was hospitalised as her blood pressure reached a dangerous level, 210 over 105. She was already taking two lots of medication which didn’t seem to reduce her hypertension and produced unpleasant side-effects to boot. To say I was worried was an understatement. I was petrified.

Heart and stethoscope - cardiology and medicine icons

I’m ecstatic to report that my mother now has a normal average blood pressure of 125/70, her heart palpitations have vanished and she is off all her medications. She looks and feels 10 years younger and the best part is she has achieved this all through natural means. I’ll be going into a lot more detail about how she took control of her health in the next post.

Lifestyle, stress levels and exercise are all activities that we can influence and have a choice over.  Eating too much processed foods, smoking and sitting at a desk, doing a job we don’t enjoy could be accelerating our body clock, causing premature ageing and cellular degeneration, potentially taking years off our lifespan.


In our industrialised age it’s difficult to escape the toxins in our environment. Urban areas tend to be worse, but with car emissions and factories polluting the skies, coupled with the devastation of large tracts of rainforest (effectively weakening the lungs of the Earth) a man-made disaster is in the making.

Heart Matters - pollution

The question is not: are you toxic?

The question is: how toxic are you?

Toxicity in our soil, air, water and food can cause auto-immune problems, asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and lung cancer to name a few. Effects of Pollution.

In addition to all of the above, your heart, lungs and blood vessels are working extremely hard to ensure the optimum amount of oxygen and nutrients reach every cell and organ in your body. It has its work cut out, because your circulatory network (including the ultra-fine capillaries) is about 100,000 miles in length and would wrap around the world at least three and half times!

Circulatory System

Circulatory System

The human body requires a vast network of blood vessels to support every organ and cell effectively. Every invention known to man cannot compare with the complexity and regenerating power of the human body.

Wherever blood flows in your body there is a blood vessel to carry it. Age and lifestyle related problems cause plaque to form in our arteries, restricting the flow of blood, known as atherosclerosis.

Arteries - Cardiovascular-Disease

This is not easy viewing, but everyone should understand what happens during a heart attack:

Even conditions such as vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are caused by plaque in the brain and a lack of oxygen to the brain due to a stroke, which in turn is caused by blood clots blocking hard, narrow plaque filled arteries in the brain.

Again and again so many health concerns can be traced to the condition of your circulatory system. Don’t even get me started on diabetes.

Heart Facts

  • Your heart is the hardest working muscle in your body
  • Your heart beats approximately 100,000 times per day, 35 million times per year
  • The muscles of your heart work twice as hard as the leg muscles of a sprinter
  • During an average lifespan the human heart will beat 2.5 billion times
  • Every 24 hours your heart pumps approximately 1800 gallons of blood
  • During the average lifetime the heart pumps about 1 million barrels of blood
  • The average adult heart is about the size of two clenched fists
  • On average women’s hearts beat slightly faster than men’s hearts
  • The heart of an embryo begins beating around four weeks after conception
  • The heart pumps blood to 75 trillion cells, except the corneas, which do receive a blood supply.
  • The heart has its own electrical impulse and can continue to beat even when separated from the body as long as it has an adequate supply of oxygen
  • Blood is actually a tissue

Some of us spend more money on putting fuel into our cars than we do fuelling our bodies with the right nutrition and lifestyle that will support it enough for us to have a long, healthy life.

As I said in my first Heart Matters post, a loving, happy heart reduces stress and is a key factor in longevity.

I’ll leave you with food for thought until I return with part 3, which I promise will be much more uplifting!

Heart Matters: Secrets of the Heart in Culture and Life

My heartfelt thanks go to French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, for elucidating such profound observations about the human heart.

Blaise Pascal2

He provides the perfect context for the subject matter of this first, in-depth exploration of the human heart in my ‘Heart Matters’ blog trilogy.

In this first post I wanted to explore the fundamental questions about the function of the heart in our everyday lives as well as looking specifically at heart health challenges and well-being in later posts.

Mysteries of the Human Heart

Is the heart merely a muscle, a complex pump that powers blood, oxygen and nutrients around our body, or does it actually have a mind of its own, as Blaise Pascal suggests it does? Is it the seat of our emotions and the source of love? Perhaps it serves in both capacities?

David Malone explores the human heart, juxtaposing the modern scientific view of the heart as a mere pump, versus its long history as a symbol of love and the centre of innate wisdom and human character:

The heart has been written about in every age and culture. It is the subject of poetry, prose, stories and parables. For the romantics it is an ‘organ of fire’.

“When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.” ~ Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being)

The immense use of the word ‘heart’ in language reveals our long-held obsession with its mysteries. Here are more than a few references to the heart, covering the whole spectrum of human emotion:

Heartfelt, heartbroken, heartache, bleeding heart, heartless, purple heart, kind hearted, soft hearted, cold hearted, black heart, heartless, heartthrob, heartbeat, sweetheart, weak hearted, big hearted, disheartened, heartily, hearty, heart of the matter, open hearted, half hearted, down hearted, free hearted, lion heart, heart centred, heart burn, a heart of stone, sickness of the heart, bless your heart, a change of heart, absence makes the heart grow fonder, after my own heart, be still my heart, eat one’s heart out, by heart, cry heart out, follow heart, faint of heart, give someone heart-failure,  heart of gold, have a heart-to-heart, follow your heart, heart in the right place, heart in mouth, heart sinks,  heavy hearted, heart skips a beat, heart flutter, home is where the heart is, heart’s not in it, with all one’s heart, young at heart, with a light heart, set heart on, take to heart, steal heart, out of the goodness of heart, pour heart out, to one’s heart’s content, lose heart, have heart in mouth, let heart rule head, in one’s heart of hearts, wear heart on sleeve, close to one’s heart, win heart, have a heart!

Perhaps to describe a person as heartless is the worst insult you could level at them, it implies that the very essence of what makes a human being is absent…

heart-quotes-and-sayings - Evander Holyfield

Shakespeare’s references to the heart:

The very instant I saw you, did My heart fly to your service.  (The Tempest, Ferdinand to Miranda) ~ You draw me, you hard-hearted adamant (Midsummer Night’s Dream, Helena to Demetrius) ~ My five wits, nor my five senses, can Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee. (Sonnet 141, 9-10) Tell me thou lov’st elsewhere; but in my sight, Dear heart, forbear to glance thine eye aside (Sonnet 139, 5-6) ~ JAQUES What stature is she of? ORLANDO Just as high as my heart (As You Like It) ~ A heart to love, and in that heart Courage, to make love’s known (Macbeth, Macbeth to Macduff) ~ Tell me where is fancy bred, Or in the heart, or in the head? (Merchant of Venice, song) ~ What infinite heart’s ease Must kings neglect that private men enjoy! (Henry V) ~ My old heart is cracked, it’s cracked (King Lear, Gloucester to Regan) ~ If thou ever didst hold me in thy heart, Absent thee from felicity a while, And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain To tell my story. (Hamlet, Hamlet to Horatio) ~ Go to your bosom; Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know…  (Measure for Measure, Isabella)

Shakespeare as you’ve never heard him before! I think the Bard would dig this jazzy interpretation:

Definitions of heart

  1. A hollow, muscular organ, which, by contracting rhythmically, keeps up the circulation of the blood.
  2. The seat of the affections or sensibilities, collectively or separately, as love, hate, joy, grief, courage, and the like; rarely, the seat of the understanding or will; — usually in a good sense, when no epithet is expressed; the better or lovelier part of our nature; the spring of all our actions and purposes; the seat of moral life and character; the moral affections and character itself; the individual disposition and character; as, a good, tender, loving, bad, hard, or selfish heart.
  3. The nearest the middle or centre; the part most hidden and within; the inmost or most essential part of any body or system; the source of life and motion in any organization; the chief or vital portion; the centre of activity, or of energetic or efficient action; as, the heart of a country, of a tree, etc.
  4. Courage; courageous purpose; spirit.
  5. Vigorous and efficient activity; power of fertile production; condition of the soil, whether good or bad.
  6. That which resembles a heart in shape; especially, a roundish or oval figure or object having an obtuse point at one end, and at the other a corresponding indentation, – used as a symbol or representative of the heart.
  7. One of a series of playing cards, distinguished by the figure or figures of a heart; as, hearts are trumps.
  8. Vital part; secret meaning; real intention.
  9. A term of affectionate or kindly and familiar address.
  10. t. To give heart to; to hearten; to encourage; to inspirit.
  11. i. To form a compact centre or heart; as, a hearting cabbage.

All emotion emanates from the heart. It is the first organ that develops in a growing foetus, even before the brain.

“It is in the heart that the values lie. I wish I could make him understand that a loving heart is riches, and riches enough, and that without it intellect is poverty.” ~ Mark Twain

It makes sense to me that emotional intelligence comes from the heart and intellectual intelligence comes from the mind. The two are separate yet cannot exist without the other, the yin and yang of our physical existence. It seems that our creator trapped us in a biological duality of heart and mind, where our challenge lies in finding balance within the dichotomy of reason and passion.

It is a question pondered by greater poets than me.

Heart and Mind

SAID the Lion to the Lioness – ‘When you are amber dust, –

No more a raging fire like the heat of the Sun

(No liking but all lust) –

Remember still the flowering of the amber blood and bone,

The rippling of bright muscles like a sea,

Remember the rose-prickles of bright paws


Though we shall mate no more

Till the fire of that sun the heart and the moon-cold bone are one.’


Said the Skeleton lying upon the sands of Time –

‘The great gold planet that is the mourning heat of the Sun

Is greater than all gold, more powerful

Than the tawny body of a Lion that fire consumes

Like all that grows or leaps…so is the heart


More powerful than all dust. Once I was Hercules

Or Samson, strong as the pillars of the seas:

But the flames of the heart consumed me, and the mind

Is but a foolish wind.’


Said the Sun to the Moon – ‘When you are but a lonely white crone,

And I, a dead King in my golden armour somewhere in a dark wood,

Remember only this of our hopeless love

That never till Time is done

Will the fire of the heart and the fire of the mind be one.’

~ Edith Sitwell (1944)

The heart and its mysteries will always be at the root of popular culture. I don’t recall Elton John singing, “Don’t go breaking my brain.” It doesn’t sound right and it doesn’t feel right…

breakup quotes5jpg

“If my heart could do my thinking, and my head begin to feel, I would look upon the world anew, and know what’s truly real.” ~ Van Morrison

So how do we attain the ideal marriage between the heart and mind? That state of alignment and inner peace, which promotes optimal health and a feeling of good will to all man, of spiritual connection?

“It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Aristotle - Educating-the-mind-without-educating-the-heart-is-no-education-at-all.

Increasing one’s intellect is sometimes an arduous task, and for some of us, there’s only so far our grey matter will take us (thanks genes). I’m all for constant learning. I’m a learning junkie. But the heart’s capacity to love knows no limits and is not dependent on knowledge.

The Heart — an organ of truth and emotion

It turns out that living a heart centred life isn’t a sound bite of new-age mumbo jumbo, it’s based on hard science. Positive emotions and living in alignment with our strengths, virtues, passions and purpose creates coherence with the mind. Scientists have discovered that the heart has its own neurons which communicate with the brain more than the brain communicates with the heart. It’s a symbiotic relationship.




“I think… if it is true that

there are as many minds as there

are heads, then there are as many

kinds of love as there are hearts.” ~ Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina)

History of the heart

The ancient Egyptians recognised that the heart represents truth. The heart knows when we are in love, it gives us that ecstatic yet unsettling fluttering sensation which is beyond our control. The swelling and warmth we feel when we think of those we love. Whether we are being true to ourselves, or being less than truthful, it beats steadily or erratically accordingly. We may be able to fool others, but we can’t fool our heart.


“Alas! there is no instinct like the heart…” ~ Lord Byron

That’s why many organisations use Polygraph tests when questioning suspects and witnesses, so they can measure potential physiological changes that take place during questioning. The lie detector tests measure pulse, blood pressure, respiration and skin conductivity, all of which are controlled by the heart and cardio vascular system.

“The heart is the perfection of the whole organism. Therefore the principles of the power of perception and the soul’s ability to nourish itself must lie in the heart.” ~ Aristotle

Could it be that the voice of conscience we hear in our head actually has its Head Office located in our heart?

Heart quote

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

It has been discovered that the heart emits its own powerful electro-magnetic field, and that our hearts are linked energetically to those we love regardless of distance. Science tells us that we are all connected at the quantum level.

Mysteries of the Heart:

The Heart’s Intuitive Intelligence: A path to personal, social and global coherence:

An interesting and enlightening TED Talk from Howard Martin, one of the original leaders who helped Doc Childre found the HeartMath Institute. I think he eloquently answers my questions!

When he talks about how human heart energy interacts and affects the planet’s ionosphere; it’s quite fitting that an anagram of HEART is EARTH.

To bear malice is ultimately affecting us more adversely than the person or thing we are scornful of. A Happy heart is a healthy heart.

Daisy shaped heart

Until the next time, from the bottom of my heart!

“It is our heart working in tandem with our brain that allows us to feel for others … It is ultimately what makes us human… Compassion is the heart’s gift to the rational mind.” ~ David Malone