How to Reduce Heart Disease in Firefighters

Its been very well documented that the leading cause of firefighter-on-duty deaths is related to heart disease. Therefore any information regarding decreasing the chances of heart disease are very valuable to the firefighting community. I've recently been researching the correlation between cholesterol and heart disease and have found some interesting correlations that are not regularly discussed in the fire service.

The long-established dietary recommendations of yesterday have created epidemics of obesity and diabetes, the consequences of which dwarf any historical plague in terms of mortality, human suffering and dire economic consequences.  Despite the fact that 25% of the population takes expensive statin medications and despite the fact we have reduced the fat content of our diets, more Americans will die this year of heart disease than ever before!

Statistics from the American Heart Association show that 75 million Americans currently suffer from heart disease, 20 million have diabetes and 57 million have pre-diabetes. These disorders are affecting younger and younger people in greater numbers every year.  Many risk factors contribute to the development of heart disease, or atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

So, what is the main culprit to the increasing numbers to this Heart Disease epidemic? Is it high cholesterol? About 50% of heart attacks and strokes occur in people with normal cholesterol levels. This suggests that many people at risk are presumably "healthy" because they have normal cholesterol levels.

What I've found is that there is a huge correlation between inflammation and heart disease. Did you know that inflammation in the arteries, not necessarily cholesterol, contributes to heart attacks and strokes? Inflammation is involved in all stages of atherosclerosis, and triggers heart attacks and strokes. Simply stated, without inflammation being present in the body, there is no way that cholesterol would accumulate in the wall of the blood vessel and cause heart disease and strokes.

Without inflammation, cholesterol would move freely throughout the body as nature intended. It is inflammation that causes cholesterol to become trapped.  What is inflammation? Inflammation is not complicated -- it is quite simply your body's natural defense to a foreign invaders such as a bacteria, toxins or viruses. The body can easily and efficiently handle acute cases of inflammation from bacterial and viral invaders.

However, if we chronically expose the body to injury by toxins, stress, and/or foods the human body was never designed to process, a condition occurs called chronic inflammation. This chronic inflammation can then lead to major health issue including heart disease, cancer and now recently there is correlation to mental health issues.

What are the biggest culprits of chronic inflammation? Inflammation is the body's response to the overload of simple, highly processed carbohydrates (sugar, flour and all the products made from them) and the excess consumption of omega-6 vegetable oils like soybean, corn and canola that are found in many processed foods. Basically, inflammation in our blood vessels is caused by the low-fat diet recommended for years by mainstream medicine.

Let me restate that, the recommended mainstream diet that is low in fat and high in polyunsaturated fats and carbohydrates, has been causing repeated injury to our blood vessels. This repeated injury creates chronic inflammation leading to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity. So, when you savor the tantalizing taste of a sweet roll, your body responds alarmingly as if a foreign invader arrived declaring war.

Foods loaded with sugars and simple carbohydrates or processed with omega-6 oils for long shelf life have been the mainstay of the American diet for six decades. These foods have been slowly poisoning everyone.  The proof is in the pudding, over the last 20 years the American diet has decreased its fat content and replaced it with processed sugars and sweeteners yet the rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancers have skyrocketed.

Don't believe me? Research for yourself (and let me know what you find out).

What can you do about it?

My research has shown that there are 3 things you can do immediately to help lower the inflammation in your body:

1. Stop smoking and chewing tobacco. Smoking causes inflammation in the body (due to the inhaled toxins) and hardens the arteries. Research shows you can reverse all of the damaging effects smoking causes within 5-10 years.  Chewing tobacco has also been linked to increases in inflammation and can lead to cancers and higher risks of dying or heart disease.


2. Change your diet. Minimize the processed foods in your diet, eat fruits, nuts and vegetables regularly. Researchers have shown that people who stick with a Mediterranean-style diet—based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and olive oil—can lower their levels of inflammation. This may not correlate with your current diet around the firehouse but we (as a firefighting community) need to change our culture.

(Get your fire rescue workout, eating guidelines and FRF Healthy Firehouse Cookbook HERE.)

You can also decrease inflammation by reducing saturated fat and trans fats and eating more foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid—like flaxseed, walnuts, and canola oil—and omega-3 fats.

3. Get active. Exercise is a great way to lower inflammation without any side effects associated with medications. Aim for five days a week, at least and focus on exercises that improve mobility, cardiovascular conditioning and full-body strength.

Need more motivation to get fit?  Earn Cash, win prizes, and get fire rescue fit by joining the FRF Fit for Duty Challenge (click here for information).

Get healthy and Stay "fit for duty."

Let me know how I can help...

-Aaron Zamzow

JOIN the GET FRF (Fire Rescue Fit) Challenge, Win prizes, get cash and swag.  All FRF Programs includes coaching, workouts, meal plans, recipes and more.  Hurry, spots are limited (click here).

Additional Resources

Hansson, G. K. (April 21, 2005). Inflammation, Atherosclerosis, and Coronary Artery Disease. N Engl J Med retrieved April 16, 2010 from:

Kotz, D. (November 11, 2008). 6 Ways to Reduce Inflammation—Without a Statin or a Heart Test. Retrieved on April 17th, 2012 from:

Lundell, D. (March, 2012). Heart Surgeon Speaks Out On What Really Causes Heart Disease. Retrieved April 18th, 2010 from:

Ross R. (1999). Atherosclerosis - An inflammatory disease. N Engl J Med. 240: p115-126.

Walsh, B. (December, 2011). Video Presentation (Click here to watch video).
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