Cardiovascular diseases, caused by high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, have a damning hold on the Hispanic community, with heart disease ranking as the community's No. 1 killer.

In addition to that, the aligned cerebrovascular accident, known as a stroke, is the fourth leading cause of death among Hispanics, demonstrating the need for Latinos to take better care of their hearts.

Dietary and lifestyle changes can alter the outcome for many who are leading unhealthy lives, but making that change involves addressing one's relationship with food, exercise, medical care and personal health. Also, it means becoming aware of cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Also, overcoming language barriers, and barriers pertaining to access to transportation and health insurance.

Ann Marie Navar-Boggan, M.D., Ph.D, a lead research author at Duke Clinical Research Institute, spoke with Latin Post, discussing cholesterol, cardiovascular health and details about the research. The study showed that elevated cholesterol levels exist in otherwise healthy young adults, and it likely has a long-term impact on health, as mentioned in a previous Latin Post article

During the course of their research, the academics found that the length of time a person has even mildly elevated cholesterol levels determines their future risk of heart disease, regardless of whether or not they are otherwise healthy. This is because the damage done to blood vessels due to high cholesterol is cumulative over time. Cholesterol years should regarded in the same way as 'pack years' following cigarette use. 

Hypertension, the clinical term for high blood pressure, provokes strokes and heart disease in Hispanics. And while this may be a reality for many, Hispanics are likely to drop out of treatment when symptoms clear up, they're likely to avoid doctor visits and they're likely to delay care. Among Hispanics who experienced a stroke, 72 percent had high blood pressure, compared to 66 percent in non-Hispanic whites, and many don't seek out care that they need.

Hispanics' tendency to carry extra weight, consume fatty foods (refried beans and sour cream) and fail to find the time to prepare healthy foods that consist of fresh fruits and vegetables is a huge contributor to Latinos' cardiovascular condition. In addition to that, Hispanics find it difficult to find a time to exercise when working multiple jobs. The prevalence of diagnosed diabetes in Hispanics (30 percent) heighten for this reason, and Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans between the ages of 24 and 74 are 2.4 times more likely than non-Hispanic whites to have complications that lead to cardiovascular disease and renal failure.

According to Dr. Navar-Boggan, a very real threat to the Latino population is the obesity epidemic, especially in young people. Obesity rates in Latino children and adolescents are higher than any other racial and ethnic group. Because obesity is a major cause of high cholesterol and diabetes, there may be a potential tidal wave of young Latino adults who will develop these conditions in early adulthood. These obese children then will be at much higher risk for heart disease once they reach adulthood. If the community can't curb this epidemic of obesity, the disparities in cardiovascular disease will only worsen.

"We did not specifically look at Latinos in this study but the effects of cholesterol on heart disease are known to affect adults of all races and ethnicity. Rates of cardiovascular disease are particularly high in the Latino community due to a number of factors," said Dr. Navar-Boggan. "Latinos are more likely to have high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity than non-Latinos in the U.S., all of which contribute to high rates of cardiovascular disease.

"The first step to reducing disparities is to improve access to strategies to prevent heart disease. While we have effective medications to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, Latinos are less likely to be screened for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, so many go untreated."

The researcher stated that the first step is for young adults to be screened for high cholesterol. Those with high cholesterol (LDL over 130 or non-HDL over 160) should talk to their doctor about diet and exercise changes to lower their cholesterol levels. Older adults with high cholesterol, particularly those with other risk factors for heart disease, should talk to their doctor about considering statin medication therapy to lower their cholesterol and their risk of heart attack and stroke in the future.

Dr. Navar-Boggan also recommended The American Heart Association for excellent resources in both English and Spanish for people interested in learning more about heart health.