If you’re of South Asian origin, you’re 50% more likely to suffer a heart attack than someone of European ancestry, with the same levels of health.
It’s not about lifestyle
Lifestyle doesn’t explain the higher rates. Smokers or people with high blood pressure have a higher risk of heart disease, but overall people of South Asian origin are no more likely to smoke or have high blood pressure than anyone else.
South Asian cooking is often high in saturated fat, but obesity levels are similar. So why are heart attack levels so high among South Asians in the UK?
It’s about cholesterol levels
We know that there are different types of cholesterol, the “good” and the “bad” and that the ratio of good to bad cholesterol is more important than the overall level found in our blood.
- HDL cholesterol is “good” – higher levels protect you against heart disease
- LDL cholesterol is “bad” – the higher your levels, the higher your risk
- Triglycerides, another form of fat, are also “bad”
And even within these groups, some kinds of LDL are more dangerous than others and some kinds of HDL less protective.
HDL and LDL cholesterol
People of South Asian origin tend to have more harmful types of LDL cholesterol and less helpful types of HDL cholesterol, compared to people with European ancestry.
South Asian people may also have worse ratios of LDL to HDL cholesterol, which aren’t explained by differences in diet. Additionally, they are more likely to have higher triglyceride levels.
Triglyceride levels, diabetes, and a healthy weight and shape
This likelihood to have higher triglyceride levels may be linked to an inherited tendency to be apple-shaped rather than pear-shaped. Putting on extra weight inside the tummy in this way is called abdominal obesity, and it actively increases your risk of diabetes.
So people of South Asian origin are also 6 times more likely to develop diabetes than the general population in the UK; having diabetes is another major risk factor for heart disease.
Reducing the risk of heart disease
The higher your risks, the greater the benefit you get from reducing your risk factors. Many of the risks of having a heart attack come from factors we can change.
These tips could help:
- Avoid food rich in saturated fats (like butter), as they can increase “bad” LDL cholesterol
- Having a waist over 90cm (for a man) or 80cm (for a woman) increases your risk of diabetes and heart disease
- If you have a family history of diabetes, raised cholesterol or heart attack, talk to your GP about cholesterol testing
- Get active: regular exercise is proven to cut your risk of heart disease. Keeping active can also increase “good” HDL cholesterol
- Eat a wide variety of fruit and veg, aiming for 5 portions a day
- If you’re overweight, cutting your weight by 10% can raise your HDL by 8% and reduce LDL by 15%
- Look for healthier alternatives to the ghee (clarified butter) that is used in South Asian cooking
- Quit smoking. Even one cigarette a day raises your risk of heart disease