It's common knowledge that smoking, high cholesterol and lack of exercise contribute to heart disease. However, there are people who have heart attacks who have never smoked, exercise regularly and have normal cholesterol levels. They find themselves asking, "Why did this happen to me?"
Pam Peitz, manager of Washington County Hospital's Cardiac Rehab and Congestive Heart Failure programs, said this has led researchers to look at other factors that may contribute to heart disease.
Recent research has shown that elevated homocysteine levels in the blood increase the risk for heart disease. Those levels can be lowered by taking sufficient amounts of folate in the diet. Foods that are high in folate include green leafy vegetables, beans and fortified cereals. Vitamin supplements also are a source of folate, although it is unclear if they are as beneficial as the folate naturally found in foods.
Both the Harvard Physicians' Health Study and the Nurses' Health Study indicate that people with the highest C-reactive protein levels in their blood had three or four times the risk for heart attacks and strokes - even if they were not smokers and had normal cholesterol levels. C-reactive protein levels are a measure of inflammation that can be measured through a simple blood test. Inflammation of the blood vessels has been associated with heart disease.